Mark 12:6

He had still one son, who was very dear to him; and him he sent to them last of all. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.


when no hired gun is left for hire
to collect a pound of grapes for wine
it is time to have an unpaid relative
enter the fray without changing plans

at this point we are well past
respect as a category and into feud
sides have been drawn honesty lost
no one is left above the fight

authority comes from no external source
strong arms and privileged position
long ago lost their effectiveness
there will be some other way tried


The beloved one, ἀγαπητός (agapētos), has been present before at both baptism (1:11) and transfiguration (9:7). In Mark’s circling around and enclosing one story within another, we are to understand that this is some sending of Jesus for a resetting of relationships.

This is a different resetting if we are to think about a hierarchy of landowner to tenant, of G*D to human, rather than a reestablished relationship of partnered images.

It is intriguing to consider that this last option was sent for one purpose and decided to shift orientation. This becomes an option when considering an expectation of success by the landowner and an understanding of the beloved to be entering into sacrifice and death. Does the honor or respect then come back to the landowner through the intermediary “son” (resetting the hierarchy) or to the “child” on their own (resetting a new “beloved” community physically and socially healed)?

This same sort of choice comes with the stated intention of honor or respect. ἐντρέπω (entrepō, in the active means “to make ashamed” and in the passive “to be put to shame”, but here is to be seen as “have regard for”). Is a reset community to live out of shame or honor? These ancient categories continue to be present in current mythologies (of course we won’t call them such for several generations).

Sometimes we would prefer to have a strict analogy to take such choices away from us. As it stands, this and every parable brings waves of uncertainty and variation to the fore. Are we seeing what is there or a preconception of what is there? Are we viewing this from our past experience or future hope? Are we stuck in the present?

Mark 12:5

He sent another, but him they killed; and so with many others – some they beat and some they killed.


plenty of collection agencies
need business to pay their expenses
there’s always a tougher one
just around the corner

this is part of any business plan
collection of debts
recoupment of what’s owed
until not paying-up costs too much

when such a projected outcome
does not come to pass
there comes a decision point
write it off or go to war

both sides play the attrition game
at great peril to everyone around
it is too big an investment to fail
it is too large a cause to give in.


This sounds very much like the result of training from the School of Americas to oppress local resistance to economic occupation of “Latin” America and others by the United States of America. As another wave of threat arrives because of greed, it is critical to become ever harder in response until it is no longer a response but an preemptive aggression to subdue any potential response.

The desire for autonomous privilege, denying all others their same desire, is a crucial factor in the institution and process of community breaking for the benefit of individuals.

Put into a more colloquial phrase: “Ain’t nobody the owner of me!”

Even if we assume a benevolent landowner (or G*D), the function of a landlord in regard to tenants must be asked about. This same inherent difference of power shows up in the need for movements such as “Me, Too” and “Black Lives Matter”. Neither of these would be an issue it is if the whole system wasn’t based on “What I can get away with because I control survival issues of land and sustenance”.

Does this broken community and ease with power over others go back to some ancient garden from which some are cast? This is a question not only for humans, but for any G*D.

What is the relationship between stories such as this and an idealism found in images such as a Jubilee Year when relationships are set back to equal without remembering a desire to return to power by some and the learned subservience of others is still present within?

Mark 12:4

A second time the owner sent a servant to them; this man, too, the tenants struck on the head, and insulted.


if at first you don’t succeed
engage patience
practice steadiness
give a generous second chance

if at first you don’t succeed
up the ante
justify your past
double down on harm done

if at first you don’t succeed
reassert your claim
reassert your claim
rely on attrition of any other side


For the landowner to continue expecting the contract with the tenants to be honored is admirable, generous even. There is no knowing what went wrong with the ask and why the first courier returning, limping.

In accord with good practice to keep things at the lowest level of upset, another is sent from landowner to tenant to receive the landowner’s due.

A wrinkle in this tale is the reality on the ground regarding actual wealthy landowners and those who were one bad harvest away from being evicted from their tenant role to become beggars. Being a tenant farmer in any day is probably problematic. It is sustenance level employment. This background further grounds the idea that this should be called a Parable of the Tenants rather than the Isaian starting point of a Vineyard.

Waetjan8 describes the situation:

The temple, therefore, was the central institution in Judaism that controlled the Jewish “tributary mode of production,” the system that extracted the economic surplus from its primary producers, the peasant cultivators and shepherds, and redistributed it among the upper class, specifically to the members of the ruling aristocracy, the priesthood and the administrative apparatus of the government.

Rebellions by tenants can not only be understood, but expected. When the tenants in the parable come to be understood as those who are taking advantage of the real life, current, tenants on the ground, there is a double take that reveals Jewish temple and Roman government to be cheating on a standard landowner/tenant relationship where both gain benefits.

This makes the tenancy of the religious leaders and occupying forces to be outside the usual social bonds of a landowner/tenant relationship that appreciates one another and, therefore, illegitimate.

Mark 12:3

but they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed.


what do we want
the result of our labor
when do we want it
yesterday

to be robbed before
putting enough away
to last until next season
unacceptable

we turn you away
as though you had visited
a barren fig tree or vine
you never knew what hit you

there is no time of day
much less quarter given
for playing proprietary games
by an absent partner


The “servant” is categorized as a δοῦλος (doulos, slave). These servants have some characteristics of a διάκονος or deacon—remember Peter’s mother-in-law. The doulos have even more of the characteristics of a slave totally at the discretion and direction of a master.

One way of distinguishing the differences is noted by LaVerdiere173:

Being diakonos describes the servant’s relationship to those who are served. Being doulos describes the servant’s relationship to the kurios in whose name he serves. Translating doulos as “slave” would consequently be more accurate, except for the term’s historical associations with the horrors of the African slave trade.

If it is known that the landowner is away, their slave is of no account and under the old dictum of those-that-have-will-receive-more, a sound dismissal of said slave promises more reward than loss.

As a result this slave who had come with hands ready to be filled went away “holding his own hands” [Bratcher365].

A beating and a dismissal is also a common way the prophets have been treated down through the ages. This also comes with a warning that increasing levels of violent response will be forthcoming should they try this again.

Both Swanson238–241 and Wright158–160 see this parable as one that flows opposite the parable of the seed in Chapter 4:1–9. “The Sower expects a good outcome, no matter what the obstacle. The parable of the Vineyard sees disaster erupt out of disaster as things go from improbably bad to inexplicably worse.” [Swanson] Early in Mark it is easy to project a victory bringing good news. Now, things are getting worse and will get far worse. Each Reader’s experience will surface a different tipping point from seed to vineyard. Where is yours?

Mark 12:2

At the proper time he sent a servant to the tenants, to receive from them a share of the produce of the grape harvest;


for six days
all went according to plan

but that day apart
investigating a new investment
set free-will loose

on a proverbial eighth day
when the rent was due
renters liked their chance
to become owners

no one likes to be a cog
in someone else’s financial scheme
reparation time is here

all went according to plan
for six days


Whereas a fig tree was not in the right season for fruiting (καιρός οὐκ ἦν — kairós oúk ęn, not the time), this vineyard was τῷ καιρῷ (tō kairō, the right season). This is part of Mark’s reflexive or reflective palin pattern.

We have heard kairos back in 1:15, at the beginning of Jesus’ Galilean presence; 10:30, a new family; 11:13, fig tree out of season; and 12:2, vineyard in season—we will hear it again in 13:33, a time to watch and pray. Kairotic time is a time for decisions. Will you claim a new family, affirm that this is always the right time for clarity and mercy, and keep on your toes to respond faithfully to your best intention even when stressed?

These are not easy ways of being. Peter, the Rock, is emblematic of how difficult it is in the moment to live what he desires to have learned.

We are just now having a wider circle to talk about white privilege. This is something long overdue. In a sense Whites are still seeing the world around them, not as humble tenants, but as rightful owners of anyone not able to pass as White. This story about a fruitful and abundant vineyard world and how privilege has taken over so that a minority of people, White Americans, can claim the majority of resources.

This is a parable about economics and how they can get unbalanced whether we are talking about feudal times or a capitalist market whose “invisible” hand is capable of giving everyone a very tangible finger in the eye. Just as we can analyze a fairy tale by identifying with every character in it, we need to be clear and not shy away from seeing ourselves, the Readers, as the tenants.

Mark 12:1

Jesus began to speak to them in parables, “A man once planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine-press, built a tower, and then let it out to tenants and went abroad.


to speak authoritatively
there is not much better
than an apt illustration
that will clarify
who stands where
and to what effect

name the place
protect it
productize it
protect it yet again
profit from it
vacation from the place

all the work of one
is for the benefit of one
a seven-point business plan
is to assure retirement
ideally in seven weeks
or seventy years


This is a parable that is also told in the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Thomas. While there is a sense of an allegory in the synoptics, Thomas (65:1–8) seems to simply be the story that begins in Isaiah 5:1-2 and goes on without an absent landowner, judgment, and punishment.

The discovery of Thomas has led to a revision of thinking about this parable. Until then an allegory was assumed and Jesus was the “son”. It now appears that Thomas was closer to what might be considered an original saying of Jesus and the “son” reference may well be about Baptizer John. This needs to be remembered as the parable progresses. [See 5G510–511 and Mann458–464.]

Technically it is interesting to note there are eight new words to Mark, half of which are unique in Mark. They all relate to what amounts to an appropriation of Isaiah for the first half of this verse.

The second half changes Isaiah’s focus on a vineyard (Israel) that has devolved into wild fruit to a fruitful vineyard (Israel) co-opted by wild tenants. Merriam-Webster online defines a tenant as “one who has the occupation or temporary possession of lands or tenements of another”. It can be proposed that it is the tenants that have taken a vacation from their responsibilities as tenants.

The commercial nature of tenants who have a financial stake in the vineyard suggests both Rome who is occupying Palestine and the chief priests who had sold out to Rome. This continues the critique begun with the disruption of moneychangers in the temple area. It also sharpens it from middle management doing the transactions to those who are responsible for the whole system.