Mark 12

The Word Made Fresh

1He began to teach in parables:

“A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to some tenants and left for another country. 2At harvest time he sent a servant to collect his share of the vineyard’s profits, 3but the tenants grabbed him and beat him and sent him away with nothing. 4He sent another servant to them, and they beat him, too, and cursed him. 5He sent another, and they killed him. Many others were sent. Some were beaten and others were killed. 6He had one son, so he sent his son to them, thinking they would show him respect. 7But when the tenants saw him they realized he was the heir to the property. They said, ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will belong to us.’ 8So, they captured him and killed him and threw his body out of the vineyard. 9What will the owner do then? He’ll come and have those tenants put to death, and then he’ll give the vineyard over to others. 10Haven’t you read the scriptures where it says,

‘The stone rejected by the builders is now the
cornerstone that holds up the entire building.
11This is what the LORD has done,
and it is a wonderful thing to see.’”

12When the chief priests and record keepers realized this parable was for them they wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, so they left him and went away.

13Later, they sent some Pharisees and some Herodians to try and trick him into saying something for which they could have him arrested. 14They asked him, “Teacher, we know you are an honest man. You don’t kowtow to anyone or hold anyone to be more important than others because you teach God’s way truthfully. Do you say it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not. 15Should we pay, or should we not?”

But Jesus saw their scheme and said to them, “Why are you testing me? Show me a coin.” 16They showed him one, and he said, “Whose face is here, and whose inscription?”

“The emperor’s,” they answered.

17Jesus said, “Then, give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and give God what belongs to God.” And they were speechless.

18Then some Sadducees, a sect that denies the resurrection, came to him, and asked, 19“Teacher, Moses wrote that if a man’s brother dies and leaves behind a wife but no children, he must marry the widow so that she can have children for his brother. 20Now, there were seven brothers; the first married and then died without children. 21The second brother married her, and he also died and left no children. The third did the same, 22and so forth until all seven had produced no children for her. Finally, the woman herself died. 23The question is, whose wife will she be when the resurrection comes? All seven had married her.”

24Jesus said, “You are wrong, because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God. 24When the resurrection comes they will not marry or be given in marriage because they will be like the angels in heaven. 25And, as for the dead being raised, haven’t you read in the book of Moses the story about the burning bush, where God says, ‘I am the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob’? 27God is LORD of the living, not the dead. Your assumptions are all wrong.”

28One of the scribes heard him disputing with the Sadducees and, noting that Jesus had answered well came and asked him, “Which of the commandments is the most important?”

29Jesus said, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel; the LORD our God, the LORD is One, 30and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength.’ 31And the second is, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is more important than these.”

32The man responded, “You are right, Teacher. The LORD is indeed One, and there is no other. 33And to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself is much more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, and told him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that exchange no one dared question him.

35While teaching in the temple Jesus said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36David declared by the Holy Spirit, ‘The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I cast your enemies beneath your feet.’

37If David himself calls God his LORD, how can he be God’s son?” The crowd around him listened with delight.

38In his teaching, Jesus said, “Be careful of the scribes. They like to walk around in long robes and be respected in the market, 39and they like to have the best seats in the synagogues and be honored at banquets. 40They foreclose on widows’ houses and say long prayers so they’ll be noticed. They will certainly be condemned.”

41He went then and sat across from the offering boxes and watched people putting money in them. A lot of wealthy folks put in large offerings. 42Then a poor widow came and put in a penny as her offering. 43Jesus called his disciples together and told them, “I’ll tell you the truth; this poor widow has given to the treasury more than all the others. 44They gave out of their plenty; but she has given all she had out of her poverty. She gave all she had to live on.”


1-12: The “Parable of the Wicked Tenants” is based on Isaiah 5:1-8, where Israel is denounced as a vineyard that yields only wild grapes. Jesus adds several elements: the vineyard is leased to tenants, who ignore the owner’s demands for the rent and try to steal the vineyard by killing the heir. Jesus is deliberately escalating the conflict with the religious authorities by implying that they have neglected their duties as the keepers of the vineyard and sought only to be in control and enrich themselves.

13-17: The Pharisees and Herodians come back with a test for him having to do with paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus’ ingenious response silences them.

18-27: So, the Sadducees give it a try. They think they have found a kink in the idea of the resurrection; suppose a woman marries and is widowed seven times, and each husband dies. Whose wife will she be? Jesus’ reply is logical, if you live in a culture that considers the primary purpose of marriage to be procreation. He goes on, however, with a clever argument from scripture, pointing out that the Bible refers to people long dead in the present tense.

28-34: Now a Biblical scholar takes up the cause and challenges Jesus with a question that fueled one of the popular debates of the day: which is the greatest commandment? Jesus’ reply is also in keeping with the current wisdom, that the whole law has to do with loving God and neighbor. This particular scholar receives a compliment, in contrast to Jesus’ usual estimate of scribes (see verse 38, for example).

35-37: Now Jesus takes the initiative to confound those who are seeking to confound him. It is another clever play on words that challenges the popular opinion about who the Messiah will be. Curiously, it challenges the gospels’ own presentation of Jesus as “the son of David;” but in Mark’s gospel the only person to refer to him as such is blind Bartimaeus (see 10:47). Mark opens his gospel saying it is about “Jesus Christ, the son of God.”

38-40: The scribes are roundly criticized for feathering their own nests at the expense of widows. This nicely sets up the next scene …

41-44: …which features the fiduciary faithfulness of a widow.


This chapter wants us to see that faith is a simple thing. Faith is not a magic key that opens up our understanding of the world. Faith is not a way to measure one’s importance to God or to other people. Faith is simply an acknowledgment that we belong to God, and all we have belongs to God.