Mark 12:1-12 – The Parable of the Wicked Tenants


Mark 12:1-12


Through a parable about vineyard mismanagement, Jesus attacks the Temple authorities and predicts their coming demise.


In keeping with his emerging trickster identity, Jesus attacks the Temple authorities with a parable. There is nothing hidden about the parable; the authorities recognize immediately that Jesus is mocking them. Jesus uses the parable to make the authorities look even more despicable than if he had condemned them in plain words.

The parable begins by making explicit that the owner has done everything necessary to make the vineyard ready to make wine. The mention of the tower and the winepress, the two most expensive pieces of infrastructure for making wine, show that years have been spent on preparing the vineyard. The tenants represent ideal figures for critiquing the Temple authorities because they neither owned the vineyard nor did the actual labor of producing wine, rather they acted as intermediaries between the laborers and the vineyard owner himself. Similarly, the Temple authorities were intermediaries between God and the people; the Temple did not belong to them. The wicked tenants, however, begin to act like they own the vineyard, refusing to pay the vineyard owner his share, mistreating his messengers and eventually killing his son. Contained in this imagery is a damaging critique of the Temple authorities. Jesus paints a picture of them as playing God and abusing his prophets. The parable ends with Jesus threatening the Temple authorities and claiming that God will soon destroy them and give their responsibility to others.