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Monday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time. The reading is from the Gospel of Mark 12:1-12.

Parable of the Tenants – Mark 12:1-12

He [Jesus] began to speak to them in parables.

“A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and left on a journey.

At the proper time he sent a servant to the tenants to obtain from them some of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed.

Again he sent them another servant. And that one they beat over the head and treated shamefully.

He sent yet another whom they killed. So, too, many others; some they beat, others they killed.

He had one other to send, a beloved son. He sent him to them last of all, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’

But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’

So they seized him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

What [then] will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come, put the tenants to death, and give the vineyard to others.

Have you not read this scripture passage:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes’?”

They were seeking to arrest him, but they feared the crowd, for they realized that he had addressed the parable to them. So they left him and went away.

This same incident is told in Matthew 21:33–46 and in Luke 20:9–19.

  • He began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and left on a journey.” (Mark 12:1)

In the above verse, Jesus quotes from Isaiah’s “The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard”:

He spaded it, cleared it of stones,
and planted the choicest vines;
Within it he built a watchtower,
and hewed out a wine press.
Then he waited for the crop of grapes,
but it yielded rotten grapes. (Isaiah 5:2)

Here is the “The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard” in full.

The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard – Isaiah 5:1-12

1 Now let me sing of my friend,
my beloved’s song about his vineyard.
My friend had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside;

2 He spaded it, cleared it of stones,
and planted the choicest vines;
Within it he built a watchtower,
and hewed out a wine press.
Then he waited for the crop of grapes,
but it yielded rotten grapes.

3 Now, inhabitants of Jerusalem, people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard:

4 What more could be done for my vineyard
that I did not do?
Why, when I waited for the crop of grapes,
did it yield rotten grapes?

5 Now, I will let you know
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
Take away its hedge, give it to grazing,
break through its wall, let it be trampled!

6 Yes, I will make it a ruin:
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
but will be overgrown with thorns and briers;
I will command the clouds
not to rain upon it.

7 The vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
the people of Judah, his cherished plant;
He waited for judgment, but see, bloodshed!
for justice, but hark, the outcry!

This parable of the landlord and his tenant is a prophetic allegory where:

  • The the vineyard denotes Israel.
  • God is the owner of the vineyard.
  • His servants are his messengers, the prophets.
  • The tenant farmers are the religious leaders of Israel – the chief priests, pharisees, and other Jewish leaders.
  • The lease is the covenant which God made with the people of Israel again and again.
  • The beloved son is Jesus himself.
  • The transfer of the vineyard to others refers to the people of the new Israel.

In this scenario, God sends His prophets (servants) to the vineyard (the people of Israel) expecting righteousness from His people in return for His blessings. The tenants (chief priests, pharisees, and other Jewish leader), seize the prophets, beat one, kill another and stone another. Again God sends more prophets and all the prophets that were sent by Him, receive the same treatment.

Finally, God (the landowner), sends His son (Jesus) to them, saying, “They will respect my son.”

Rather than accepting the Son of God, the chief priests, pharisees, and other Jewish leaders plot against Him because thousands of people were following Jesus after hearing His words. They are worried about the charisma that Jesus had on the people.

According to this parable the tenants were not fools when they said “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.” (Mathew 21:38) because according to the law of those days if a heir apparent died without having made a legal will, his property was considered unoccupied land, and it went to the first person who claimed it. If tenants were already on the land, they had the first opportunity to claim the property by virtue of occupation.

And finally as Jesus prophesied the chief priests, pharisees, and other Jewish leaders plot against Him and kill Him – the Son of God.

The Cornerstone

The cornerstone by James Jacques Tissot

Jesus then asks the pharisees,

Have you not read this scripture passage:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes’?

Here Jesus refers to Psalm 118:22-23

The stone the builders rejectedhas become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;it is wonderful in our eyes.

and Isaiah 28:16

Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD:
See, I am laying a stone in Zion,
a stone that has been tested,
A precious cornerstone as a sure foundation;
whoever puts faith in it will not waver.

In ancient days, stonemasons carefully chose the stones to be used in constructing a structure such as a house or a public building. No stone was more important than the cornerstone because the strength of the whole structure depended on the cornerstone. If the cornerstone was not exactly right, or aligned incorrectly, the entire building would go out of line and the whole structure would collapse. Hence, the stone masons scrutinized the stones to be used as cornerstones, rejecting those that did not comply until they found the right ones they wanted. The rejected stones might be used in other parts of the building, but they would never become the cornerstone.

Jesus hints that he is a cornerstone rejected by the Jewish leaders. Though rejected by them he would become the cornerstone for building the structure called the church that gives protection to the humble souls from all types of weather.

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