We are all of us fairly familiar with the parable of the vineyard owner who leaves his lands in the hands of tenants only to have the tenants attempt to hold the land for themselves and not return the profits to the owner.
We learn early on in our religious lives that the owner is God, the tenants are the Pharisees and Sadducees of the day, and the servants who come to collect the harvest are the prophets who have throughout the years warned Israel to turn from its wicked ways. Finally of course the Son goes to collect from the tenants and is murdered. It is not lost on the listeners that the Son is none other than Jesus himself.
The climax is announced in the final sentence:
Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
Simple isn’t it. We, the Gentiles or modern-day Christians, are the recipients of the Kingdom, given to us when God “gave up” on Israel.
We can nod with a smile, and go home from church feeling pretty darn special.
We would do well not to rest on our assumptions too long however.
If parables are living words to us today, as I believe all scripture is, then we must stop and think. Are we the Pharisees and Sadducees of our day?
Jesus wisely related this story back to its source in Isaiah:
What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I had not done?
Why, when I looked for the crop of grapes,
did it bring forth wild grapes?
And we must ask ourselves? Not what more should God have done but what more we should have done. If we look upon the kingdom and find it full of wild grapes, who is to blame? God? Or ourselves? Are we unworthy tenants as well as so many of those early Israelites were? Or are we the wild grapes themselves?
Neither prospect is particularly enjoyable to contemplate.
Rather than feeling self-satisfied as the new “inheritors” of the vineyard, we should examine our lives and works most carefully. When Jesus returns to take back his Kingdom, left in our hands, lo those centuries ago, what will he find? How will he find us?
Will the books balance? Will we have cared for the land and kept it fertile? Will we have made sure that the workers are healthy and strong, able to raise future generations of good workers?
These are important questions, and no doubt not a single one of us can feel secure that we will pass the test.
But if we have read scripture with care, we know that all is not lost if we find ourselves short of our goal. God is loving and forgiving and forever calls us to begin again, to get up and try once more. If we do that with sincerity and with good heart, we can be assured that Jesus himself will join us with clippers and baskets and together we will create God’s kingdom in perfect glory.
Readings from Isaiah 5: 1-7
Matthew 21: 33-43
- Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (prepareformass.wordpress.com)
- October 2nd, 2011 – 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (catholicjules.net)