My reading this morning included Mark 12: 1-12, the parable of the vineyard owner. In it, Christ tells the story of a land owner who clears and prepares land for a vineyard which he plants (including hedges for a fence, a tower, and a wine vat) and then leases it to tenants. At harvest time, the landlord sends his representatives to collect his portion of the harvest; the tenants beat some and kill some but send all away empty handed. Finally, the landowner sends his son, whom he believes they will respect. The tenants' solution is to kill the son (as the heir) and take the land for themselves. The landowner's final decree: he will cast out those who were currently leasing the vineyard and give it to others.
In the context of the gospels, this story is directed at the Pharisees and Sadducees, those two groups perennial groups that opposed Christ's ministry and bound the Jews to their laws instead of the law of God. Fair enough. But what struck me in reading it this morning was the activities of the landlord.
The landlord, Christ says, owned the land. He cleared it. He prepared it. He even planted the vines - and if he was coming back to collect the harvest, the implication is that the vines were not just newly planted but established (3 years minimum). He provided protection for it (in a planted hedge) and prepared facilities for use (a tower and a wine vat). Only after all this was done did he rent the land.
What are the responsibilities of the tenants? If you know anything of vineyards, hard work but not a great deal of challenge: prune in winter; manure in spring and fall, trim in spring; water in spring and summer, drive off the birds in sumemr and fall, harvest and prepare wine in fall. The hard work, the clearing and ripping soil and planting and preparing a water source and buildings are already done.
And what does the landlord ask for? His share, the share he earned for putting in the preparation and expense of the vineyard, not to mention the ownership of the land.
But the tenants are selfish and ungrateful. They don't seem to appreciate or realize everything that was done prior to their arrival, only that they "did" all the work but the landlord (who was in a far country and not visible) did nothing to assist them. Casting aside all gratefulness and memory, they attempt to hoard it all for themselves, forgetting that in the end, they have no ability to either hold the land or a right to it.
What a wonderful metaphor (wonderful in the sense of a stinging rebuke) for much of my own life in relationship to God. I neither own the world nor my own life: I didn't prepare it, I didn't make it, I just happen to be occupying it. God only asks of me that I care for the vineyard I'm in and give Him His portion of the fruits at the end of harvest - in both cases acknowledging the fact that He is the owner of the vineyard, and I am only a tenant.
My response? Too often it's like the tenants' of Christ's story: I fight against all God sends to me (not stoning or killing anyone, like that makes it better), denying Him the rights to which He is entitled. My "work" is "mine".
How often I get stuck on my "rights" and not on God's grace in ownership - or His patience in dealing with me, time and time again. Perhaps it's time to look down the nodding rows of vines in spring and remind myself Who made this all possible and what He is really asking of me.