The Bible: how context is vital

Last week we looked at recurring imagery in the Parable of the Wicked Tenant.

Today we’re revisiting the same parable. We’ll look at how context is important and how the author developed his ideas using the parable as part of a panorama of meaning.

warriorThe parable appears in Mark 12 but the previous chapter introduces us to an interesting theme. In Mark 11, we first see Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem at the start of the Passover. Choosing a colt such as a king might ride, he passed the crowds who shouted “Hosanna!” which means “Save us.” The crowds were hoping for a return to the kingdom of David.

David was the best king of Israel and, even a thousand years later, the Jews were waiting for a king to restore them.

So we see the theme of a king developing in Mark 11.

Then we have an interesting tale of Jesus cursing a fig tree for its lack of fruitfulness, then going to the Temple where he toppled tables and threw out the merchants, then passing the fig tree now withered at the roots.

Our author laminated the story of the fig tree with the clearing of the temple to help make his point: both were condemned for lack of fruitfulness. Jesus lamented that the Temple was supposed to be a house of prayer for the nations – a nurturing role – but instead had become a den of robbers.

Remember, too, for first century Jews, the Temple was where God lived. It was where God came to earth from heaven to dwell with his people. The Temple had great authority because of that.

Following the display in the Temple, Jesus was approached by the religious leaders who demand to know what authority Jesus had to do what he did in the Temple. Although Jesus first responded with a question of his own which revealed how they bowed to popular opinion, he then answered their question in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

Jesus laid out the situation around him: servants who didn’t acknowledge the generosity of the landowner and instead decided they wanted to own the vineyard himself.

In fact, the story that follows the parable has to do with paying taxes to Caesar – yet another authority issue.

Jesus answered the question of paying taxes with a classic response: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

That idea would also apply to his parable. The issue – based on the context of Mark 11-12 – has to do with authority. Who is king? Who is in charge?

Our author weaves several tales together to form a rich tapestry dealing with the question of authority. The religious leaders questioned Jesus’ authority to challenge the traditions of the Temple.

But Jesus, through the parable which is couched in several references to authority, turns the question around.

The religious leaders asked, “By what authority do you do these things?”

And Jesus seems to answer, “By what authority do you do these things?”

And the context makes his point clear.

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