Once again Jesus began to address (the religious leaders) in parables: “A farmer planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug out a vat and erected a tower. Then the farmer leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
“In due time the farmer sent a subordinate to the tenants to obtain from them, the owner’s share of the produce from the vineyard. But they seized the subordinate, who, after a beating, was sent off empty-handed. Then the owner sent them a second subordinate. So too with many others: some they beat, others they killed.
“There was one more to send – the farmer’s own beloved child. ‘They will respect my heir,’ thought the farmer. But the tenants said to one another, ‘Here is the one who will inherit everything. Come, let us kill the heir, and the inheritance will be ours.’ Then they seized and killed the heir and dragged the body outside the vineyard.
“What do you suppose will happen? The farmer will come and destroy those tenants and turn the vineyard over to others! Are you not familiar with this passage of scripture:
‘The stone rejected by the builders
has become the cornerstone of the building.
This is Our God’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.’”
Mark 12:1-11 (Matthew 21:33-34; Luke 20:9-18)
|Metropolitan Gay Love by Antonino La Vela |
I have never cared for this parable mainly because it is almost always treated like an allegory instead of a parable. The farmer is God, the vineyard is Israel – or at least the faith of Israel, the tenants are the Jewish faith leaders, the subordinates are the prophets, the beloved son is Jesus, and the new (and rightful?) tenants are the emerging christians. I do not like this allegorical interpretation for it has led to much harm done to Jews and the faith of Judaism due to its insinuation that violent anti-Semitism in the name of God is beneficial.
For sure Mark positioned this parable to prepare us for the violence Jesus experienced at the end of his life. As such, the parable fulfills its purpose to help us understand how the one rejected by society becomes the cornerstone of a new faith expression.
It is here at the juncture of rejection/acceptance that the parable intersects with queer reality. Like the tenants, society believes that by its violent rejection “queerness” will disappear. Is this not the motivation behind recent calls for queer concentration camps and government death squads? Kill the queer and we need not be bothered with this pesky thing called diversity, tolerance, and support.
Human sexuality is fluid not fixed. Like the vineyard it “is” but cannot be claimed as anyone’s dominion save for the individual (the farmer) to whom it belongs. Other’s may seek to control human sexuality – even destroy it – but ultimately only the individual can bestow his or her sexuality onto the world. La Vela’s work gives expression to the large and expansive world of gay male sexuality which is only one part of human sexuality. Yet within this rich and textured environment how one expresses their sensuality and their “gayness” is up to the individual within the community.
It is worth noting that this is the last parable to appear in the Gospel according to Mark. (The so called “parable” of the fig tree – Mark 13:28-29 with parallels in both Matthew and Luke – is a prophetic action with an allegorical application and not in my mind a proper parable.) As the final parable it points us back to the opening parable of new cloth/old cloth and new wine/old wineskins contrast in Mark 2:21-22. In these opening parables the question was raised can new forms of spiritual expression be contained by old religious sensibilities?
In its violence the farmer/tenant parable may be giving us the insight that the old passes away only after violent struggles, as Marxists schemes are want to suggest. Yet, while the violence may capture our attention the emphasis is on the farmer staying loyal to the vineyard. An insight that speaks to me about remaining true to myself as I express my sexuality within the larger community of family, friends, and work, as well as for me to be true to my sexual orientation even when others would have me deny it. After all, it is the rejected stone that becomes the conerstone for the whole building.