If you were to look into Jesus’ eyes in Mark 12, I imagine you would describe them like John did in Revelation 1 — as a flame of fire. Has a more subversive, weighty little story ever been told than what you hear at the beginning of Mark 12? It’s certainly on the level of Nathan’s “you are the man.” This is the story of the vineyard entrusted to farmers, who in the end killed all the owner’s servants and even killed his son in hopes of gaining the inheritance for themselves.
Here in chapter twelve, it’s like the undercurrent of furor that was boiling in Mark 3 spills over. There, early in the book, Jesus was brimming with anger because his opponents were more interested in playing legal games than showing compassion to those suffering. Here, however, he doesn’t hold his tongue. As chapter eleven comes to a close and prefaces Jesus’ story, I imagine him stepping up to the mic like Apollo:
Down from the peaks of Olympos he hastened, enraged at heart, carrying on his shoulders his bow and lidded quiver, arrows rattling loud on his shoulders as in his rage he strode on his way: he came as nightfall comes. (Iliad translated by Peter Green, 2015, p. 26)
Jesus is calm and composed as he tells the story. That composure mixed with the ferocity of the words is why I think in this moment Jesus’ eyes looked just as deep and fiery and filled with life and power as what John saw.
As he draws the story to a close and explicitly says that the lord (ὁ κύριος) will destroy the abusive farmers, he makes his own literary reference.
Haven’t you read this scripture? The stone the builders rejected, this one became the cornerstone. This was from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
There’s the twinkle. The last clause. Can’t you see it? As he utters the syllables ἔστιν θαυμαστὴ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν, don’t you know his face lit up with a smile? One of those I got you smiles that is resigned to whatever hostile reaction it might ignite. Despite all the misunderstanding up to this point, they got it this time: “They knew he told the parable about them.” The arrows sliced through their targets.
He said it was marvelous. Maybe the mention of wonder and marvel, as Jesus leans into his coming suffering, is related to the wonder and fear his followers felt on the road as they headed to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32). Things are changing, it’s from the Lord, but it’s scary and confusing and amazing. Hardly anyone knows what to think except the one who walked ahead.