Each post this week will focus on the biblical account of the events that occurred in the last week of Jesus’ life. Today’s reading is from Mark 11:27-12:12 (NRSV).
Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” -they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘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, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?” When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.
Today is the penultimate face-off for Lent Madness 2014. If you’ve never heard of Lent Madness, well, shame on me for not having highlighted it earlier, but it is a bracket style tournament between 32 saints of the Church to win the coveted Golden Halo on Spy Wednesday. The brain child of The Rev. Mess’rs Tim Schenk and Scott Gunn, Lent Madness is a great way to learn about the varied ways in which the Gospel message has been proclaimed over the course of the last 2,000+ years. Enough back-story, today’s match-up is between two powerful voices for reform within the Anglican/Episcopal Church: Charles Wesley (1707-1788_, the more reluctant of the brothers who are credited with starting Methodism, and Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), Bishop of Massachusetts and general ne’er-do-well clergyman.
Phillips Brooks claim to fame is his preaching, said to be able to preach 200 words a minute (I preach about 115), Brooks complained bitterly about his time at Virginia Theological Seminary and then spent his career calling Episcopalians to be active in bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth. For example, he was a staunch supporter of the North during the Civil War: one of his chief complaints about VTS dealt with its history of slavery. The Wesley brothers gained the name “Methodists” as a pejorative: it seems folks weren’t too keen on their strict adherence to religion and practical piety, but their call to take seriously the Gospel message of Jesus, to preach it to the ends of the earth, and to allow it to change one’s life was nothing new. The saints of the Church have been calling us to this higher calling of life in the Kingdom from the very beginning.
Brooks and Wesley were two in a long line of servants that the Lord has sent to “collect his produce,” that is to say, to bring forth his Kingdom. In today’s lesson from Mark, we hear Jesus tell the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. It is perhaps his most difficult parable to unpack as it is filled with allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures and dripping with the socio-religio-political tensions of the early 1st century in Jerusalem, but as we remember Wesley and Brooks today, I’m aware that the parable lives on in the life of the Church. We continue to struggle to be faithful to the will of God. Institutions, by their very nature, are neither good nor evil, but they do have a tendency toward self-preservation, and the Gospel of Jesus can be downright dangerous. I’m thankful for servant after servant after servant who has come to call to Kingdom living, and I pray that when we are so called, our response will be one of faithfulness and trust in the goodness of God’s will for creation.
Oh, and while we’re at it, go over to Lent Madness and vote for Phillips Brooks!