Your Daily Lenten Devotional
April 6, 2012
Into the Wilderness
Good Friday: Who Holds the Future?
The Wicked Tenants Mark 12:1-12
Some years ago 60 Minutes interviewed a newly elected member of the British Parliament from Belfast, Northern Ireland. What made the election newsworthy was her open support of the Irish Republican Army, a group viewed by many at that time to be engaged in acts of violent resistance to Protestant (and British) control of Northern Ireland. Given the religious dimension of the violence in that troubled nation, the interviewer understandably pursued that line of questioning. Given the Parliament member’s strong support of the IRA, the interviewer asked her: “Is God on your side?”
Her reply was unnerving, both in its seriousness and implications: “God is on the side of the winner.” At the risk of oversimplifying, she was declaring that the outcome of events reveals God’s favor or “siding.” For her, finding God is not a difficult search for right or wrong, moral or immoral but simply in identifying who is left on top of the heap when the smoke has cleared and the killing is over.
Such opportunism stamps this parable from Mark. The tenants perceive that life belongs to those willing and determined to succeed at any cost. An absentee landlord has allowed them the favorable chance to stake out their claims on land he has set them to work upon. The servants sent to collect his due are easily, and gradually more brutally, turned away empty. Possession of that vineyard and its produce has become the one end by which the tenants measure all actions. Even when the owner finally sends his son, the tenants seize an opportunity not to make peace but to make their strongest claim. They kill the son. The heir is gone. The land will be theirs. God must be on their side, for the future now belongs to them.
As the parable ends, those left standing on top of the heap of history simply become another layer of sedimentary failures. The violence by which they lived becomes the curse by which they die. The vineyard passes on to other hands. Jesus elsewhere tells equally stern stories but not often. And now he strikes a raw nerve. The religious authorities of his day are infuriated, hearing in these words an indictment of their own poor stewardship of God’s good purposes. Fear delays their intent to arrest–but not for long. In a few short days they have the teller of parables arrested in the middle of the night and crucified in the heat of the day.
And why not? God is on the side of the winner.
At approximately three o’clock on that Friday now called Good, who could argue the point? This threat to the future has been executed. Roman power efficiently dispatches a misguided rabbi and two thieves from the land of the living. The future belongs to those left standing at the end of the day. And at the end of this day Jesus stood no more. The one who told a story of a beloved son put to death out of envy became the story himself.
It is a story and a strategy repeated again and again among us. Brute force. Political opportunism. Kill or be killed. Only the strong survive. Do unto others before they do unto you. The name and context may change from generation to generation, but the core attitude remains the same. God is on the side of the winner. To the victor go the spoils.
We do well to linger in the shadows of Good Friday to appreciate the power and seduction of such logic. We do well to linger in the shadows of Good Friday to reflect on our own complicity in its continuing unfoldings among us. We may not be executioners who drive nails or plotters of another’s demise. But we may at times yield to those seemingly smaller killings of spirit and hope that over time contribute to the stigmata of Christ’s wounds by wounding others. We may at times be seduced by self-serving ends that justify
any means. We may give in to the illusion that God is on the side of the last one standing in our view and time.
But the parable reminds us that views and times change. The tenants succeed only momentarily. By neglecting the truth of the vineyard’s owner, they neglect the force of a future beyond their control and manipulation.
What does that perspective bring to our vigil of Good Friday? Religious authorities enforced their purpose. Rome executed Jesus. We are not yet at Easter morning, so we still grieve the shadow cast by an embodied crucifix. But conspirators and capital punishers have overlooked the force of a future beyond their control and manipulation. True, at the end of the day Jesus no longer stands. But in the chill of this day’s closing, as from a still unseen distance, come whisperings. A story told of a vineyard’s owner who will not be forever denied. A closing word of a stone rejected soon to become a cornerstone. A future that belongs not to the last one standing but to the one(s) God at the last “stands up”: in Greek, anastasis; in English, resurrects.
Holy God, help me to trust so in your future that I may live faithfully today. Amen.
Read one of the Crucifixion accounts in the Gospels. If possible, as you do so listen to a meditative piece of music such as Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Where in that story and in this day do you experience hope that encourages you to live in trust of God’s future, come what may?
Parables and Passion: Jesus’ Stories for the Days of Lent
Retail Price: $15.00
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Parables and Passion offers a disciplined encounter with the parables of Jesus in the season of Lent. The book allows reflection on one parable each day arranged around relevant themes. The Prologue offers a reading for Ash Wednesday, and the Epilogue provides readings for the final days of Holy Week.
Used with the kind permission of our friends at Upper Room Books.