THE PARABLE OF THE TENANTS OF THE VINEYARD
Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:33-43
(A biblical reflection on the 27th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 4 October 2020)
First Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalms: Psalm 80:9,12-16,19-20; Second Reading: Philippians 4:6-9
The Scripture Text
“Hear another 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 is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.” (Matthew 21:33-43 RSV)
Jesus tells this parable or story of the vineyard to His opponents, the chief priests and elders of the people, to show them that even though they were God’s Chosen People in the past they have forfeited any claim to the new Kingdom of God because of their disloyalty and disobedience to Him. They were given a vineyard to cultivate, but they claimed it as their own. And not only refused to give any return to the true owner but murdered the owner’s son when he was sent to reason with them. The Jews were chosen by God to prepare for the coming of Christ; they not only failed in their appointed task but they put Christ to death when He came, thus excluding themselves from His new Kingdom, the Church, where they would be replaced by the Gentile nations.
For information, the vineyard as an image of God’s Kingdom on earth often occurs in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:1-7; Psalm 80:8-16; Jeremiah 2:21). Jesus had Isaiah 5:1-7 (today’s first reading) before His mind when speaking this parable.
There are two leading thoughts that come to the mind of any true believer on hearing this parable: the infinite goodness, patience and mercy of God in His dealings with mankind, and the unsounded depths of wickedness and ingratitude to which men can sink. To His Chosen People of the Old Testament God had given a fertile and fully-equipped vineyard: His revelation, His protection, a homeland of their own in Canaan, and all this in order to prepare them for the future Messiah, who would bring them an eternal home in God’s own Kingdom. All He asked in return was their cooperation.
But they had other plans; they wanted their kingdom on earth. Yet God was patient with them; again and again He pardoned their infidelities. He sent them prophet after prophet to recall them to their senses, but they maltreated these messengers of God and refused to heed their warnings.
Then “the fullness of time” came and He sent His divine Son on earth in human form. He took His human nature from one of their race, lived among them and preached His Gospel of love and peace to them. He tried to soften their hard hearts, and made them the final offer of the Father’s mercy and pardon. But instead of accepting God’s offer of mercy the chief priests and elders only made it an occasion of an even greater sin. To their crimes of infidelity and injustice they added the murder of God’s Messiah and Son.
In God’s plan of love and mercy the tragedy of Calvary turned out to be the great “triumph of failure”. That death brought life to the world and opened the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom for all nations and races. The Gentiles rallied around the standard of Christ . A new vineyard was set up in which all men could work for their Father in heaven and for their own eternal interests.
We Christians today are the successors of the first Gentile followers of Christ. We too have been called to work in God’s vineyard. Are we working honestly and devotedly? Are we producing the grapes and the wine that our divine Master expects of us? If our answer is “yes, I am living a true Christian life, I am working for God’s honor and glory and for my own eternal salvation”, then we can say a heartfelt “thank You” to our merciful Father, and ask Him to keep us ever in this right path. But if our answer is “no”, then let us pay heed to today’s lesson. What happened to the chief priests and elders can and will happen to unfaithful Christians if they persevere in their infidelity and disobedience. But we can still put ourselves right with God, Let us do it today; tomorrow may be too late.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, from the above parable we learn that the Jewish leaders believed they were assured a special place in the Kingdom of God because they were God’s chosen ones. Your parable shows that wasn’t the case. We are sorry, Lord Jesus, because so many times we did act and/or think the same way simply because we are Christians. Please forgive us, Lord. Amen.
Jakarta, 3 October 2020
A Christian Pilgrim