Who owns the commons? It is possible to own the earth? When I was in graduate school in political science, I took this course on political economy. The only book I remember was about England and the transition to an industrial economy. This book struck a chord with me, because of the way that people used and owned the land changed. Ordinary people, poor people, had been allowed to use common land to graze animals and grow food. Then fences started to be put up and the land started to be owned and kept from people who had lived and worked there for generations but became the Lord's to do with as he pleased. People were being pushed from the land or forced to pay more to the owners of the land. I think this struck home for me, because I noticed a difference between how you could visit the land in Connecticut. I had spent may vacations on an Island off of Texas at my grandparents where you could run around the whole island with no barriers or fences to stop you. When I got to Connecticut, beaches were owned. If you didn't have the right sticker you couldn't go to them, if you did go to paid public beaches you were limited in how far you could walk. I still don't understand how you can own a beach or ocean. When we allow the ownership commons those who suffer are the poor.
The Call to Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark, Day 54Then 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 watch-tower; 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. Mark 12:1-12
So in our parable today, Jesus again speaks about people killing, beating the messengers who bring the word of God. One issued pointed to in this parable is the idea of the commons. "The Earth is the Lord's and all that's in it." Psalm 24. God is the vineyard owner, God is the one who owns the earth. We are just tenants and sojourners. God has given access to this amazing abundant land. In this glorious creation. God is the one who owns and we humans are just tenants. Read Leviticus 25 to see how The Law shares this understanding of land ownership. We humans are just sojourners, we will pass away, but the land will still be there. So the land returns always to the Lord. So when God sends messengers to seek compensation for its use, those messengers are sent packing or killed. So how do we deal with the land and resources. In a world where we are letting coke and pepsi conglomerates buy up water rights, so that what runs free is now bought and sold, God sends messengers about who owns the water. When there are amazing resources below the land and in the fruit of the land, who benefits from these resources. We have allowed major corporations to benefit from these commons, to the detriment of the people who live on or near the land or of the nations in which the resource is located. How are we to look at the resources that are God's? Would we change how the profits are shared from the resources and what the communities whose resources are stripped from the land receive as compensation?
But at another level this parable is about how messengers of God are treated. When God sends the prophets to share the abundant, fruitful word. The people reject, beat, and kill the prophets. God keeps trying to share the word with the people and keeps meeting rejection. So finally, God sends the beloved, the messiah, hoping the people will finally hear and accept the word. But the people kill the beloved. Jesus shares that at that point God will reject those tenants and build on the new work of the beloved. The religious authorities who hear this fear the crowds and seek Jesus' arrest.
In what ways, have you rejected God's word and God's messengers? Have you set aside those passages in the Gospel that require a change in your behavior? Have you heard the word preached and then before you were out the door done the exact thing the preacher had just preached about changing?
Take a walk this week in a public park. Experience the abundance of God's creation. Let the beauty of the earth sooth your soul.
Sing Alleluia by Third Day and Jennifer Knapp