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

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

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.

Mark 11:33

So their answer to Jesus was – “We do not know.”

“Then I,” replied Jesus, “refuse to tell you what authority I have to do these things.”

in the end empire falls
every so-called system
carries its own subterfuge
with each new after-the-fact rule
protecting each next privilege
we end not knowing
what we’ve always known

lost in a cloud of not knowing
we can’t unknow our certainty
without losing every control
of our ill-founded hope
grabbing the tighter
the little we yet have
walls go up moats go around

stuck inside a little circle
while larger longer arcs play
we hang our head
up our dose of Lexapro
just enough to not ask
if this is all it is about
and no Alfie left to ask

Bratcher362 notes:

In Tzeltal there is an interesting idiomatic way of disclaiming knowledge, namely, “What shall we say!”—an expression which fits this context perfectly, for it was not ignorance but unwillingness to answer which dictated the reply of the authorities.

It is this unwillingness to respond with what one knows to be true when they are most integrous that leads leaders of every time and place to what is meant by “moral injury”. All too often we elect good people to positions where they will need to make decisions that run contrary to their heart and what they know deep within it.

Little-by-little, one compromise after another leads to an internal wariness, weariness, and fear of getting caught out. Excuses about being able to do some good and keep the worst bad at bay cover this for awhile. Eventually, all decisions look like a trap and whatever inspiration initiated an intention to service ends up being challenged by the very folks intended to be helped.

Whatever religious or civic organizations you are connected with are likely being influenced by the same dynamic in which these religious leaders found themselves. It is only with life-sustaining partnership that we can support and challenge one another past the divides of authority. This is particularly real for those who have a G*D component to their authority. A G*D factor can enter inappropriate considerations of eternity and emphasize any judgmental quality that would allow cleansing the face of the earth of all opponents.

Mark 11:32

Yet can we say ‘human’?” They were afraid of the people, for everyone regarded John as undoubtedly a prophet.

stuck on earth
we fall prey
pulls and pushes
push and pull
our ideal deals

we the people
keep showing up
changing our accounting
modifying our purity
compromising even compromises

when it comes
to a choice
our crowd fear
trumps our theology
we fall down

When questioned about “John’s baptism” it is understood that the question was about the whole presence of John. The religious leaders couldn’t play the strict interpretation card and deal only with John’s technique of baptism which the Essenes and others also used. John’s baptism was integral to his whole eschatological act of prophecy.

Here Jesus is using John in much the same way some use the mantle of Detrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Luther King, Jr. There is identification with and protection through calling up a martyr.

Being wrapped in an esteemed one’s program allows extra minutes in which to advance their cause another small distance. The residual good-will allotted to the one who was killed gives a few extra moments to you before you join them in death. It will be interesting to see how Jesus uses his extra time.

In the meantime, the anonymous crowd is being used by Jesus as a direct player in the game. It is the crowd that removes an option for the religious leaders to come back with a determination that John’s baptism (meaning all the repentance and forgiveness so popular that it brought folks up in Jerusalem to come down to the Jordan just before it turns into the Dead Sea) was only ordinary for it had made a difference to too many people who were at the end of their vitality and staring into a Dead Life.

The powers and principalities love to divide to conquer. Large demonstrations are important as a sign that we won’t be divided any longer. Demonstrations make a difference, even if it is to only slow the momentum of further division. Though more is needed, join or start even a small witness—it makes a difference.

Mark 11:31

They began arguing together. “If we say ‘divine,’ he will say ‘Why then didn’t you believe him?’

stuck in heaven
we find it unable
to travel anywhere else

its authority unto itself
blinds it too narrowly
to tough evolving life

heavenly speculation
shakes loose of gravity
and authority to effect affects

halfway to heaven
is the locus of miracles
revealer of a next surprise

No more needs to be said than, “They argued.” No matter what the rationale for choosing either side of the question, when folks are caught in might makes right—my right will demand your loss. A result is a losing attempt to come up with the perfect response that will brook no comeback and reset the stasis of the system.

This argument is exactly the goal of direct action oriented civil disobedience. This is what guerilla theater aims to do—create a cognitive dissonance that is fertile soil for a next seed.

The sign of the effectiveness of reframing the question from the particular tactic used to the underlying assessment of the situation is an over-thinking and making-up imagined comebacks that keep a rigid system on high alert and edgily unsettled.

What started as an accusation about the specifics of a parade without a permit and a riotous moment of breaking store windows has become the quicksand of a very pointedly sharp dilemma.

The moral underpinnings of religious authorities that seemed so clear at the beginning have turned into quicksand. The more struggle, the more deeply mired. They were so quick to accuse and now can do no more than whine. This is the binary nature of authority so bold when it can get away with it and so weepy when caught out saying more than it can ever know. Noting a cycle of accuse and whine is one way to assess the presence of a fragilely built doctrinal system where, if one peg is pulled out, the whole attempt falls apart.

Once the question has been asked and accepted, the whole game is over.

It turns out that a parabolic, ironic, relational understanding of life is far more robust than one based on hierarchy, rules, and authority.

Mark 11:30

It is about John’s baptism. Was it of divine or human origin? Answer me that.”

getting any system
to play by its own rules
throws sand in its gears
revealing common hypocrisy

consistency of intent
can’t bear the weight
of real life dilemmas
assiduously approaching avoidance

stuck between its own
rock and a hard place
with only hot air between
rules shatter scatter

Riddle-me-this, What-say-you, How-do-you-read the import of John’s practice of baptism?

What is the dividing line between “human” and “heaven”? This has vexed folks since the cessation of walking together in the cool of the evening.

Another way of asking this is what are the connecting points between “human” and “heaven”?

Whichever way these questions are responded to we have to come to a great divide that they can or cannot be neatly separated. Partnership is not like that, but lives in the messy. Authority or power don’t do well with gray areas, no matter how many shades there are.

In an instant we are back with Jesus asking the disciples, “Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am?” With just a moment’s delay we know this question is still being asked of us, the Reader.

This question is one that might well come from a quick-witted person. More likely it is the result of intentional analysis or reflection in the wilderness about what lies behind the impasse of history that keeps repeating itself through the generations. This becomes a question of original misalignment.

Because of an implied partnership the issue will not come down to a single moment or act. It is not all about G*D saying, “Don’t eat”, and investing wisdom and immortality in a single instance. This is not life, only an uninvested and disembodied G*D grok. It is not about humans tasting and hiding. This is not life, only over-functioning and with only an emperor’s new fig leaf for protection.

Finally, the difficulty we face is forever falling into the trap of one side of a pendulum only to be flung to the other side. Only a relaxed gaze appreciating both options will do. Any answer to the question will reveal an underlying essential unity of a yin-yang response.