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Jun 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Meditations In Mark – chapter 12 06/04/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome to our RefleXion Community!      May the Grace of the Lord be with you!

It seems someone is always talking about putting up the ten commandments in courtrooms and classrooms.  I don’t know what you think about that.  A leader I follow suggested that we might want to consider putting up the Sermon on the Mount instead, since that’s new testament spirituality.  I mean, it would be interesting; because those in a courtroom are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, some want mercy, all want a measure of peace. The law is foundational; and Jesus said he didn’t come to throw out the law, but he said that he was fulfilling the law.  The Sermon on the Mount is the fullness of the law.  John said that Jesus was full of grace and truth.  Grace and truth fulfill the law.

Honestly, it’s not always easy for me to live by grace.  Sometimes I just want the law, the steps, a measurement of right or wrong in terms I can understand.  But grace…that’s a whole different way to live.  For me, grace stands between what I have and what I need, and it’s present for everyone all the time.  It helps us to do what we could never do on our own and is distributed according to the wisdom of God.  Following the law will not save us (and it never could, by the way).  It is grace through faith that saves; it always has.

We’ll all only be saved by the grace of God. Oh, I find myself wanting to live by grace, yet I sometimes insist that others live by the law.  I think Jesus knew that, so he gave us the law, encapsulated in two verses:  Love God, love each other.  Let’s just do that, as best as we can.

Will you join me in prayer:

Oh, Lord Jesus, from your fullness we have received grace upon grace.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Save us from the idea that we must measure justice in our terms.  We have faith that your grace is sufficient.  May we experience its life-giving power as we more and more put our trust in you.  We breathe deeply in the grace-filled atmosphere this morning, filling ourselves with your power and loveliness, truth and grace.  Amen

Morning Talk: chuck smith, jr.

And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had 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.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give teh vineyard to others. Have you not read this Scripture:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the corner stone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.
Mark 12:1-12

Intro: For the last few chapters, tension has been growing

The religious establishment has taken notice of Jesus
– in this chapter, the conflict leads to a public showdown
• this began at end of chapter 11 with priests, scribes, and elders
By what authority are you doing these thing or who gave you this authority to do them? (Mk. 11:28)
◦ so the ‘And’ at beginning of chapter 12 is a continuation of that encounter
◦ the ‘them’ in verse 1 refers to the priests, scribes, and elders
• the answer to their question is hidden in Jesus’ parable
– the climax of the confrontation comes after three failed attempts to catch Jesus in an error
(It was always a bad mistake for Jesus’ critics to try to trap him with trick questions)
• after several assaults, Jesus posed a riddle
And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions (v. 34)

This parable is a masterpiece

It is the best commentary ever written on Mark’s gospel
– it not only reveals the plot of entire story, beginning to end,
• it also reveals the mystery Mark has kept secret the whole time
◦ Jesus is the one who tells the parable – it is his autobiography
◦ he is the “beloved son” the Father sent (v. 6)
(the various “servants” he sent were his prophets–cf. Mt. 23:29-36)
• God’s vineyard was the temple and the spiritual life of Israel
Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard,
that I have not done in it?
When I looked for grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briars and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
but behold, and outcry
(Isa. 5:1-7)
– I do not believe that the similarity between Isaiah’s song and Jesus’ parable is a coincidence
• in both, God appears as a very busy farmer–there are lots of verbs (planted, put a fence, dug a pit)
◦ however, in Jesus’ parable, the busy activity of the owner is matched by the busy activity of the tenants
(they took, beat, sent away, struck treated shamefully, and killed)
My meditation: “The priests, scribes and elders were placed in charge of the temple. In their minds, the only answer Jesus could give to their question was, ‘I do not have anyone’s authority.’ However, Jesus uses the parable as an indirect answer to their question regarding his authority.
The parable builds to a climax and at the climax, a question. Basically the question is: Given the circumstances reported up to this point, what will happen next? Though the audience may not have guessed the exact course the story would take, they would have drawn a conclusion close to the one Jesus provided (which is what happens in Mt. 21:41).
The core of pure religion belongs to God, but how religion is practiced he placed in our hands—it is our part of the covenant with God. What God expects of us, is that we do his work his way. The temple and what went on within its walls did not belong to the priests, yet that is how they treated it—just like the tenants treated the vineyard as their own investment income. In order to make it their own, they had to get rid of the Son. Apparently they assumed the owner himself would never return. The temple was being run under the authority of humans, not heaven (cf. Mk. 11:29-30).
It grieves me to see churches that are treated like other human institutions by pastors and other leaders. Too frequently they manage them with the goal of turning a profit, and handle the church’s assets as if they were the rightful owners. I don’t think they realize, that by taking over the church and making it their own, they have to get rid of Jesus.
Not everyone who assumes ownership of religion is part of a church staff or Board of Directors. There are many Christians who act like their little bit of biblical knowledge empowers them to condemn, boss, and abuse others.
There are several ways I can think of how I need to hear and respond to this parable. This morning, it’s the realization that Jesus has the authority to walk into my life and throw out any wrong thing that he sees.”

The Pharisee’s famous attempt to discredit Jesus (Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?)

It is almost comical the way they butter him up
Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God (v. 14)
not swayed by appearance, literally translates do not look on faces of men
My meditation: “The praise of these posers was over the top and totally insincere. They began their question this way for effect, not respect. Had they believed what they said about Jesus not being swayed by appearances , they would have realized he would see through their dishonesty instantly.
Anyway, what they said was true, even if they were insincere and Jesus did see past their flattery. ‘But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them . . . .’ The word hypocrite is derived from the Greek word for actors, and in stage plays the actors would wear masks that represented the characters they played. Jesus saw through the Pharisees’ masks.”
– we can learn a bit of wisdom from Jesus’ response
• when someone reduces a problem to an either/or answer
◦ right or wrong, good or bad, black or white
◦ they are priming our minds to think only in those narrow terms
• I learned from Brian McLaren,
◦ gray is not the only alternative to black or white
◦ there is seeing in color – seeing more of what is there

Next, the Sadducees give it their best shot

Mark had to explain to us, that the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection
– if the Pharisees have all the characteristics of Fundamentalists
• the Sadducees appear as the intellectual Liberals
◦ they could not bring themselves to believe in what the common people gobbled up
• Jesus begins and ends his answer to them with “you are wrong”
My meditation: “Their question was wrong, because it was based on an assumption. Since in their minds there was no resurrection, they thought they could disprove it by presenting a logical absurdity. It had not occurred to them that the resurrection would usher people into a new condition of existence. The rules and norms of this life would not apply.
How did they go wrong? By not knowing either the Scriptures or God’s power. I know the Scriptures; that is, I think I do. But I would not have seen in the Scriptures what Jesus saw—for instance, the fact of resurrection in the story of Moses. My understanding of the Scriptures is mostly rational. But that is not the only way of reading or knowing what is in them. St. Augustine said that to meditate on the deep meaning of scripture after studying the surface meaning is to ‘experience awe.’ Mark succeeds in his goal as a storyteller when I find myself in awe of Jesus—for instance, when in verse we read, ‘And they marveled at him.’
Regarding the power of God, I used to think that the Sadducees did not know the magnitude of God’s power. But now I think Jesus meant they did not even know what God’s power was—they did not know its nature. It is unlike any force or energy in our universe. The example he gives is a picture of the angels in heaven, ‘they neither marry nor are given in marriage’. A reality that is unknown to us. The Sadducees did not know enough to believe in resurrection.
But how did Jesus know this, that we will be like the angels who do not marry? This future state is not spelled out anywhere in scripture. This is knowledge of an unrevealed mystery—‘unrevealed,’ at least, until this moment.
We are all mistaken about some things—maybe about a lot of things. If we are wrong about one of the basic truths, it can blur our understanding of the peripheral truths. I think it is important for me to hear Jesus tell me, ‘You are wrong.’ It is as important as hearing him say, ‘Render to God the things that are God’s.’”

What we come to now may be the very heart of Jesus’ life and teaching

Jesus was asked, Which commandment is the most important of all?
– he wasn’t asked for the first two greatest! But he gave an answer for the second greatest anyway
• a few months ago a friend introduced me to Bob Mumford
◦ in our conversation, I mentioned that the law is relational, but we’ve made it moral
Mumford replied, “Yes! And our failures are relational, not moral”
◦ Paul agrees, “love fulfills the law” (Rom. 13:8-10)
My meditation: “We are to love God with our ‘alls’. In the Hebrew Scriptures, love has two parts that cannot be separated. One part is the feeling of love, and that was important for them, embodied in visceral language. But by itself, the feeling lacked substance to make love complete, and that required doing. So loving one’s neighbor involved justice, righteousness, and showing mercy to the weakest and most vulnerable members of society—the stranger, the infirm and disabled, the widow, and the orphan. Those acts of love mean much more to God than ‘all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ Jesus reiterated the fact that loving God and others is more important than worship when he quotes Hosea, reminding us that ‘God desires mercy and not sacrifice’ (Mt. 9:13 and 12:7).”
– Jesus told the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom”
My meditation: ‘Not far’ is not the same as having arrived. How could this scribe close the distance? The answer was right in front of him, and was the same as with the lawyer to whom Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, and then said, ‘You go, and do likewise.’ He had the map to the kingdom, he just had to get on the road.”

Jesus’ riddle ended the verbal sparring (vv. 35-37)

I’ve explained this riddle several times before, so I want to skip it for now
– the chapter ends with a glaring contrast between the scribes and a widow
Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation (vv. 38-40)
• what follows is the widow’s offering of two small copper coins
• as Jesus observed, it was “everything she had, all she had to live on”

We need Jesus’ warning about the scribes and their pretentious piety
– their true nature came out when they devoured widow’s houses
• Jesus said their condemnation will be amplified
– please! don’t imagine this is ancient history and Jesus has already resolved these issues
• last week I learned of a pious couple who cozy up to visible leaders in their church
◦ but the wife has plotted to rob a widow of her home (which she inherited when her mother died)
• I’ve never seen so much misrepresentation and misinformation as what is circulating today
◦ perhaps it seems rampant because social media gives angry, crazy and delusional people a forum
My meditation: “I think of Christian leaders who love notoriety and work at getting public attention. Jesus notices them too, and he is their greatest critic. He watched people making donations, but praised only one—a widow. She gave without drawing attention to herself, yet she drew Jesus’ attention. God knows his secret lovers.”


One more parting meditation
– I was thinking about what Jesus said to the Sadducees, that they did not know the power of God
My meditation: God has no limits. What could happen today is not limited to my resources, nor constrained by my circumstances, nor by those who work with me or against me. Today is not limited to what I can accomplish or will accomplish. God’s power does not end at my boundaries. God’s grace makes possible things I am not capable of imagining.

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