The Reading is from Matthew 21:33-42
The Lord said this parable, “There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it was marvelous in our eyes?'”
At first glance, this parable that we hear today from the Gospel of Saint Matthew is as straightforward as any of the parables of Jesus can be.
The owner of a vineyard rents it out. He repeatedly sends messengers to collect the rent money from the tenants. After all of the tries, he sends his son, because he says, “They will respect him,” and they kill him so they can get the inheritance. All pretty straightforward, or is it?
The vineyard is the Jewish nation. The owner who carefully tended to this vineyard and made it nice is God, who chose the Jewish nation, protected them from their enemies, gave them his word and trained them. The ones who rented the vineyard is the Jewish leaders down through the ages. The messengers that were sent were the Old Testament Prophets, who were stoned and killed by the people. They were sent to remind them of God’s words and promise and also what was to be their destiny. Finally, the vineyard owner’s son is Jesus Himself.
Tradition tells us that this parable was spoken on Tuesday of Holy Week to remind the Pharisees and the scribes and priests of serious sins that they had committed against God’s people, so terrible were these sins that God has to send His only Son to tell them about them. We know that most parables have another meaning to them and this one is no exception to that rule.
This is a parable first about God and the love that He has for His creation. You would think that after sending all of those messengers that ultimately God would have put His foot down and just destroyed them. But that is not what He does, he keeps sending His messengers one by one like lambs to the slaughter, and in the end, He sends His only Son. This is how much God cares for His creation.
As Hurricane Isaac was rumbling toward to shores of our country last week, there was much discussion about God’s wrath on our nation for the multitude of sins that we have committed. That is a complete misunderstanding of Scripture and tradition. First, if you remember the story of Noah, God makes a covenant with Noah and his descendants that God will never do this again! God will never again destroy His creation. And now we have this parable that shows just how much God loves His creation, He loves it so much that He is willing to sacrifice His only Son to show just how much he does love it.
But what role do we play in all of this? How do we treat the messengers that God is sending? We don’t stone them, well here in the United States anyway, but in other parts of the world, God messengers are being martyred every day. In 2010, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago made a statement that shocked the world. He said, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr.” This is not a Cardinal of some African Nation or some far off Muslim country, this is Cardinal George of Chicago! Our world is changing, and God’s messengers are being put to death or thrown in prison each and every day. It is time that we are Christians prepare for the battle that is about to come.
We see in this parable God’s generosity to His creation. The vineyard that he planted was not some crazy overgrown wilderness, it was ready to go, it had all of the equipment that the tenants needed. God is the same way with us. He not only calls us to a task, but He equips us for that task. He gave us the gift of life, He entrusts His creation to our care, He endows our mind with the capacity to solve complex problems and to make our life here a little better than those who came before us. Who could be more generous than God?
God’s shows His trust in this parable as well. God created the world and left it to us to care for. God is not standing over His creation like some overlord pushing His creation in this direction or that direction. God gave us the gift of freedom in our life, but that freedom comes with an immense amount of responsibility. We have to care for the creation He gave us to make it profitable and to sustain life. We need to care for those who are marginalized in society by society. We have to be the voice of those who have no voice, the unborn, the poor, the elderly, the homeless, the hungry, the sick, and those in prison. God give us the gifts that we need to do so much not only for ourselves but for other.
God is patient as displayed by this parable. Time and time again God extends the loan and the time that His tenants have to pay Him what they owe. When the first messenger was sent, and they treated him badly God did not exact His revenge on them, no He sent another, and another, and another. God has a tremendous amount of patience with His creation. He gives us what we need and lets us make our own decisions. When we sin He does not cast us off, as some would have you believe, He waits for us to come around and He is standing there with His arms wide open when we do.
But what happens in the end? Jesus asks those who were listening this question and they respond that the owner of the vineyard will exact his revenge on the tenants. Jesus responds with telling them about the stone rejected by the builders has become the corner stone. The Jews should have been the people that brought the salvific message to the world but the rejected the messenger of God so the task of evangelizing the world was transferred to the Gentiles whom the Jews despised.
God is merciful, patient, generous, trusting and with all of this God is also just. The tenants believed they could kill the son because the owner was too far away. Many people today believe that God is dead if He even ever existed. There are more people today to do not believe then believe. For the first time in our history, those who believe are being marginalized and our rights are being stripped away one by one. God has placed all of us here in positions of trust, confidence that we will care for all of His creation. One day He will return, and like the messengers sent to collect the rent, God will require something from us.
We see in this parable the stoning of the messengers and finally the crucifixion of God’s Son. The tenants believed that if they killed the son they would inherit it all they could be the masters of all they saw, they would take the inheritance. With this attitude, we claim for ourselves the role of the creator, we don’t own anything, not even our own lives. Every success that we have ever had in our lives has come through the blessings of God and sometimes we forget to show his the praise that is due. How often do we try and take over the vineyard and forget all about the owner and creator? We receive gifts each and every day, and we forget the one who gave us these gifts.
In the end, we see Jesus talking about Himself. He is not just another messenger who has come to collect what is owed the owner. He is the Son, He is God who has come to bring the good news. In this parable, Jesus claims for Himself a position of superiority he tells them that He is greater than those who have come before Him. The prophets brought God’s message, Jesus brings God Himself! The prophets spoke of God’s plan for them, Jesus opens God’s heart to them. The prophets told the people how God wanted them to live, Jesus showed us and continues to show us, how we are to live.
This is the last word, the final call from God to change our way of life. In the clearest way, Jesus has used he tells the leaders of the time who He is and what He is here for!
God is not absent from our lives sitting on some far off cloud in the sky. He did not create this world and then forgot about it! God is always present in and to His creation. He cares for it, and for us, and the best example of this is that He sent His only Son, why? “So that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life!”