Thursday, 13 March 2014

Lent day 7

One of the things about being a parent is that you want to shape your children morally to be good people, but unless you are authoritarian you give them warnings before punishing them, or maybe small acts of discipline along the way. One wrong word should never mean instant grounding or being thrown out of home.

In the parable of the vineyard in Mark 12:1-12, we harken back to Isaiah 5. Israel was a vineyard that God had planted, and sent many prophets to, to call them back to their covenant relationship with him. Many people see in the Old Testament a tired and cranky old man in heaven, and yet the prophetic witness tells a more complex story of broken human promises, acts of judgement and mercy and calls back to relationship.

As in Isaiah 5 (where the vineyard is clearly Israel), Jesus talks about the vineyard being destroyed, and indeed by AD70, Israel had been destroyed by Rome. Remember Jesus saw himself as a Jewish prophet and Israel's king. His criticism was from within. This isn't anti-Semitism as the church has so often practiced. We need to leave the door open, just as Paul does in Romans.

But the threat in verse 9 that the vinegrowers are to be destroyed and the vineyard (the Kingdom of God) is to be given to others is only in the 'chief corner stone' (verse 10). Anyone who sees this as a right rather than an act of grace and mercy has lost the plot. Likewise, does this threat continue to hang over the church? 'Once saved always saved' might be a useful idea to remind us that we don't earn our own salvation or status before God, but do institutions get torn down because of their failure to be proper tenders of the vine of the gospel? I do think so.

Firstly, the theologically liberal can end up offering nothing to people they can't get elsewhere. Why come to church if it is just pop psychology and bad political analysis, with no theological teeth? Likewise, hard legalism just drives people away from the truth of the love of Jesus. And rank immorality and protection of the institution over the people....

Jesus, rejected by his own people and continued to be rejected by people today is the centre of what the church is. If we lose sight of that, or make Jesus in our own image (well we all do this, but I mean excessively so; Jesus my girlfriend, Jesus the General, Jesus the hippy etc) then what we do will not be tending the grapes properly. Jesus understood as Lord means that Caesar is not, so neither our empires. Likewise Jesus as God means all of our idols are not, be they sex, power, money, etc. Christianity is truly revolutionary because of its call to inclusion while calling people to holiness. Anything else gets torn down, and what is left of value handed on to others.

Like the parable, although the beloved son has been sent to the vineyard, been killed (and been raised) and the vineyard handed over to those in the Messiah, we need to heed voices today that call the church back to right tending of the vineyard. Prophets are a pain, but a little pain is better than total loss.

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