“Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away” (Mark 12:12).
Mark 12 begins with a parable (12:1-12): A wealthy man creates a vineyard and does all to make it successful. Then he rents the vineyard out to others who then lay plans to steal it from him – refusing to pay the owner his share of the crop, treating shamefully his emissaries, and eventually, killing the son of the property owner. Jesus ends the parable with a warning that the vineyard workers will be put to death and then cites Psalm 118 praising the triumph of the vineyard owner – who, in this case, is God.
It’s not surprising that the Jewish leaders “got” the parable. As it begins, it sounds very much like the parable of Isaiah 5, a parable of condemnation for Israel’s spiritual barrenness. But the citation of the Psalm at the end takes the focus off of Israel and places it on the leaders who have hijacked the vineyard of God for themselves, laying plans to kill the vineyard owner’s son: Jesus.
A similar hijacking happens today when people take the Church, God’s vineyard, for themselves recreating it in their own image – an image more palatable and appealing to themselves and (they say) the world. The result however is the ruination of God’s vineyard and an exchange of the “Body of Christ” in which the blessings of heaven are found for “The Church of What’s Happening Now” in which no heavenly blessings are found.
Important to keep in mind.
“By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” (Mark 11:28)
Jesus has been quite plain to the disciples: The influence of the Jewish leadership over the kingdom of God is quickly drawing to a close, to be replaced by a servant people whose trust is supremely in God, evidenced by a life of prayer.
But he has also challenged the Jewish authorities directly with his cleansing of the temple, to which they have challenged “Who do you think you are?” That’s the question behind their questions.
Jesus answers with a question of his own, and in telling us the story, Mark introduces us to this very contentious section (11:27-12:44) in his gospel – perhaps the most contentious of all – and exposes us to the dishonesty of his opponents. The section is not about either the questions or the answers. It’s about attitude. Christ’s opponents are not concerned about answers, nor are they concerned with truth. They are concerned with burnishing their image and discrediting Jesus.
I find it helpful to note Jesus gave them no answer. Not every question deserves an answer, and not every challenge deserves a response. Sometimes, you just have to move on. There is wisdom in knowing when to do what.
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:22-24).
I can just pray for whatever I want and it will happen?
No matter what? Like telling a mountain to be removed to the sea? Even that?
Yes . . . and no.
God is not a holy gumball machine into which we put a prayer and God responds with whatever we wish. If that were the case, prayer would make God our servant.
The limitations of prayer is actually the theme of a longer text beginning with the cursing of the fig tree and ending with our text verse. Spiritual fruitlessness is a hindrance to prayer. Worldliness is a hindrance to prayer (it certainly hindered prayer in the temple). Failure to forgive is a hindrance to prayer (see verses 25 and 26).
And here, faithlessness is a hindrance to prayer. Stated positively, faith makes everything and anything possible . . . subject, of course, to the will of God. The issue is always: are we willing to submit to the Lord’s will?
I’m not sure I’d want something that wasn’t the Lord’s will. I’m not sure I’d want to change God’s mind about a matter if that were possible. But it doesn’t mean that I should not make my requests known, for doing so demonstrates a reliance on God, and that, too, is what faith is all about.