This morning I was awake at before 04h00 and got to hear the birds start their morning chatter. In the serenity of a quite abode, and given the opportunity, I cracked my actual, physical Bible open. A necessity as the Bible app on the smart phone is dependant on data and I had run out in the night.
Maybe I’ve gotten too used to using the Bible app.
Mark 12 contains Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, which took on new significance for me considering the land expropriation debate in South Africa now, which essentially reduces to the idea that owing to abuses committed tens or hundreds of years ago by Europeans against native Africans, that white farmers owe the poor their farms or a portion thereof. The land belongs to the African; it was stolen and must be taken back.
The parable of the vineyard doesn’t address this issue directly, but here’s what I saw:
“1 Then Jesus began teaching them with stories: “A man planted a vineyard. He built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country.”
The parable doesn’t begin with an African farmer or a European farmer, but a man who plants a vineyard and leases it to tenant farmers. Just a guy. The parable relates to God’s relationship to Israel, not past racial abuses in Africa.
However, if we take the EFF position that Mzansi (South Africa) only ever belonged to blacks and only ever should be and that all land currently owned by white farmers is stolen, then we will never have a rational conversation.
In the present, farmers have land. It’s a present fact and they are using it. There are poor people in this country who want land and it is my understanding that there are government programs to assist emerging small scale farmers.
According to an article I read (that I can no longer find), over 40% of farm lands in the agricultural powerhouses of Natal and Mpumalanga are owned and managed not by whites, but by blacks.
Birds be chirping. Farmers be farming.
“2 At the time of the grape harvest, he sent one of his servants to collect his share of the crop. 3 But the farmers grabbed the servant, beat him up, and sent him back empty-handed. 4 The owner then sent another servant, but they insulted him and beat him over the head. 5 The next servant he sent was killed. Others he sent were either beaten or killed, 6 until there was only one left—his son whom he loved dearly. The owner finally sent him, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’”
Its not a tie-in in this parable to equate the white farmer with the owner and farm invaders as the tenants who beat up his servants, but think of it this way: the tenants and the owner are in a symbiotic relationship where there doesn’t need to be acrimony. There are established roles and presumably negotiation, as in any business relationship. As I noted, this parable is about God and Israel, however purely from a relational point of view, those advocating land redistribution without compensation come across as pharisaical.
But the tenants hate the owner. Its personal, and that is precisely the vibe I get from the EFF and their many ideological bedfellows who advocate government theft of private land and its redistribution.
The EFF – if any of them were Biblically literate and inclined to consult Scripture – might look at the parable and see an interpretation where blacks in history were the owners and the whites were tenants who beat up and killed the black owners and conspired to consign them to eternal poverty.
I mean, I accept that if I see things one way, other people can see it another way, not that we should read a current situation into a parable that Jesus didn’t intend for the purpose.
Here’s where I think God’s heart is on the matter. Mark 12 continues with the Doctors of the Law (the Pharisees) trying to trick Jesus into incriminating himself and they ask him whether it is appropriate to pay taxes to the heathen government in charge of Israel in those days, the Romans.
“Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin,* and I’ll tell you.” 16 When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
17 “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
His reply completely amazed them.”
Does land belong to the State? Or individual owners? If the land belongs to Caesar, it can take it away. In many socialist countries like Mozambique, all land in State-owned and individuals merely lease it over the long term. In our country, land that is un-owned is purchased from a municipal authority but any land that is owned, or sold is done so by individuals.
Drive through any neighbourhood on any given Saturday and look at the ‘For Sale’ signs. People are buying and selling all the time. Those who want Caesar to take land by force or threat probably don’t understand that Caesar is a piece of work that rides roughshod over human beings who will do it to your enemies today, but will trample you tomorrow.
I look at the parable and see not Caesar, but God owning the land.
Caesar has no business stealing land. When you don’t compensate for an item or service, that’s merely a technical term but it means stealing.
Do I have to quote one of the Ten Commandments about not stealing?
Later in Mark 12, a religious teacher asks Jesus which is the most important commandment:
“29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’* 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’* No other commandment is greater than these.””
There are serious issues in our country and a way can be made to redress past injustices, without resorting to State-sponsored theft.
In the most basic sense, when we see each other as black or white (with different rights and responsibilities attached to each respective race), are we not refusing to love our neighbour as ourselves?
A vineyard evokes for me John 15, where Jesus uses another illustration (he must have seen a lot of vineyards and been around a lot of farms in his time).
“1 “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”
I want to be a fruitful branch in his vineyard.