Sunday's Readings can be found: [HERE]
In our gospel passage, we hear a tragic allegory in the form of a parable. Using symbolic language, Jesus describes the history of God’s chosen people, and how they rejected and killed the prophets he sent to them. And he also prophesies his own death, facilitated by the religious elite.
The vineyard symbolized the people of God, and the land he had given them, at least from the time of Moses until God the Son entered into the world. Over the course of thousands of years, the Lord had carefully and attentively established his people and given them the Promised Land. The parable speaks to this symbolically.
Our present translation somewhat simplifies that imagery by omitting a certain word in the opening verse of our parable. But that word is present in the original text. That word is, "and": “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.
That drawing out of the action, and that detailed description, intentionally, it seems, illustrates just how carefully and attentively the landowner established his vineyard. He cultivated the vine and gave it a land in which to flourish. He protected it by surrounding it with hedges and establishing a tower. He built a wine press to bring the fruit of the vine to perfection. And he entrusted it to stewards who were to care of the vineyard in the landowner’s absence.
The drama begins after his departure. His journey to another country creates a space for others to act. It opened up the possibility for the tenants to prove worthy of his trust, or to reveal themselves as frauds.
Sadly, we’re told their choice, which will lead to the greatest tragedy. Their greed blinded them to right ownership of the vineyard. Their tunnel vision focused on their own interests and they lost sight of the larger context; that the vineyard never belonged to them in the first place. They lived in denial of the inevitable return of the landowner. In their hearts, their self-deception justified theft, brutality, and murder.
And so, when they saw the Son, that unmistakable image of his Father, they thought that by murdering him, they could usurp the landowner’s vineyard. That’s how far their delusion went.
How very different that mindset from the mindset of the landowner. The landowner acted with patience and innocence; appealing to the tenants, time and again, despite their escalation of violence and rebellion. He placed great faith in the possibility of their change of heart. How else could he otherwise expose his son to the possibility of abuse and even death?
Jesus gave this parable to the chief priests and elders of the people as a warning, and to call them back to their senses. Time and again, Jesus had warned and rebuked them, when, I imagine, it would have been so much easier to simply ignore them; but he didn’t. He never gave up on them.
I have to believe that Christ’s continuous rebukes and challenges to them were an appeal for their conversion. And when that failed, when it was apparent that conversion was beyond them; as he was dying on the Cross, he could only pray for them, and ask his Father to have mercy on them: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do”.
This parable, likewise, continues to serve as a warning to us, and an appeal for our conversion. As the landowner’s journey created a space in which others could act; so also, the time we have now, before the Resurrection of the Dead, opens up the possibility for each of us to prove worthy of God’s trust, or to reveal ourselves as frauds.
Like the tenants, we might live only for the moment—even if that moment encompasses our entire lives—and we can forget who the true owner of creation really is. Our contemporary sense of independence and entitlement can blind us from the greater context of our own existence.
We were born into this world regardless of our own desires, and there will come a time when we must leave this world, whether we want to or not. This world, this universe, existence itself doesn’t belong to any of us. We are simply stewards for a time. We’re called to cultivate the land and prepare for the return of the King. At that time, there will be judgment against those who tried to usurp what the Lord has established.
But until then, God patiently waits for our change of heart. Like the landowner, he places great faith the possibility of our conversion. How else could he have otherwise exposed his Son to this (gesturing to the Crucifix)? This sign is still with us; and will be with us until the Great Return.