Jesus said to them, “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally 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 get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when 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 lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”
Today’s Gospel reading is challenging. It has several strands made up with different characters situated in different situations and reacted differently. Nevertheless, the backdrop of the Gospel reading is the vineyard. Biblically speaking, vineyard is the Kingdom of God and the landowner is God. Against this background, Jesus reminds us that the kingdom does not belong to us—it is a gift of God.
Let us to take a look how this gift of God is given to us. From the beginning of the Gospel reading, we know that God did not just create the world and then dumped to us. Instead, He planted it, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. So, God make sure that the world is conducive for us to live in it and to be prosperous in this world. Furthermore, God makes sure that it is well protected with a watch-tower so that we don’t have to worry about enemy invasion.
Next, we see that having created a secure and viable world for us to work in the kingdom, God goes away and leaves this kingdom entirely in our hands. Can we feel how God trusts us? He gives us the free will to work in whichever and whatever ways that we like to continue the building of the kingdom. Despite the fact that God is the creator, he never dictates us or controls our free will. What He asks for is an account from us to tell him how we have used the gift given by Him as the Gospel reading continues: “When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.”
Some of us might think that we have used this vineyard well. They might cite all the achievements that mankind has reached in sciences, technologies, education and many other fields. God should be happy with all these? Let us step back from all these achievements and take a closer look of our society and human history. What do we find? Can we find what we have failed to practice in this kingdom, especially in the light of world poverty, racism, sexism, sexual abuse and environmental disasters?
How do we face our conscience when we discovered how we have failed to be the stewards of the kingdom? Do we identify ourselves with the “tenants” in the parable? Most of us probably would say “No.” But let us stay here for a minute or two and listen to Jesus. Then, ask: “Have followed Jesus whole-heartedly?” Perhaps, the Holy Spirit would prompt us to remember that we have “killed” those who have reminded us that we did wrong to the kingdom by refusing to listen to them, or even worse, by giving up our faith and the teaching of the Holy Church so that our conscience would not bother us. These were exactly what the “tenants” in the parable did. What difference is here between us and the “tenants”?
Why the “tenants” in the parable and us do such horrible things to God despite the fact that we know it was wrong? The answer is we want to own the vineyard (verse 38b) and become the creator. How does God respond to our foolishness? He sent his son, Jesus, to us. With the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, God give his vineyard to a new people. These new people are us, who become members of the Holy Church.
We can also become arrogant and complacent. But Jesus reminds us the humbling realties that we don’t earn the right to be where we find ourselves because it is a gift of God and that we must produce fruits in this vineyard. Amen.