Saint Vincent Archabbey
27 Ordinary Time
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time,
Matthew 21: 33-43
The parable of the wicked tenants also appears with some variations in Mk 12: 1-12 and Lk 20: 9-18. In Matthew's gospel it is the second in a trilogy of judgment parables, preceded by the parable of the Two Sons and followed by the parable of the Marriage Feast.
Jesus addresses the parable to the chief priests and elders of the people. Using the vineyard image of Isaiah 5:1-7, he tells the story of a landowner who leases his vineyard to tenants, and goes on a journey. At harvest time, when he sends servants to obtain his produce, the tenants maltreat and even kill his servants. The landowner finally sends his son.
The evil tenants kill the son, hoping thereby to acquire his inheritance.
After finishing the story, Jesus asks his hearers what they think the owner of the vineyard will do. They answer that the evil tenants will be put to death, and the vineyard will be leased to other tenants who will give him the produce at harvest time. Jesus then turns their own judgment against themselves: in the same way, the kingdom of God will be taken from them and given to a people who will produce good fruit.
As Brevard S. Childs points out in his book Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, the key to recognizing the life implications of the parable lies in its link to the Old Testament. It is a "juridical parable” in which a prophet tells a story with the intention of drawing its hearers into bringing their judgment back upon themselves. The classic example is the story Nathan told King David about the rich man who took a poor man's only ewe lamb to make a meal for a visitor.
Nathan, like Jesus, waits for the hearer of the parable to make a judgment. David, of course, declares that the man who did the evil deed merits death. The prophet Nathan, alluding to David's sinful taking of Uriah's wife, says to the king: "You are the man” (2 Sam 12: 1-12).
This Sunday's homily will work if we are drawn into the extended meaning of the parable which Matthew develops. The tenants entrusted with God's vineyard, no longer in parable, but in reality, have killed many of his prophets and finally have killed his son, Jesus.
What judgment will God make against these tenants? Our common sense readily makes the judgment that divine justice demands punishment for these evil deeds.
The crucial point of the homily is that Jesus, the now-vindicated Risen Lord, addresses each of us as tenants of God's vineyard today. He turns our judgment upon those who rejected him and the prophets before him back upon ourselves. Have we in fact produced the good fruit of justice and love? Do we at times forget that we are only tenants, and imagining ourselves as owners, we do as we please? Do we amass more of its fruit than we could possibly use while others die of starvation? Do we also act with violence against our fellow human beings, sons and daughters of God?
The prayer of our liturgy today is that we will receive the grace to open our hearts to the prophetic voice of Jesus and become a people who produce abundant good fruit in accord with God's will.
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.
27th Sunday of the Year, Modern
As produce flows in from backyard gardens, bundles of zucchini are surreptitiously left on neighbors porches, and harvest time approaches for our local farmers, it is appropriate that the scripture readings at mass speak of reaping the good fruits of the land. In particular, the prophecy from Isaiah, the responsorial Psalm, and the Gospel all use the image of a promising vineyard to express their meaning.
In a sense, going beyond the agricultural imagery, the theme of these readings is that of choosing. In Isaiah’s famous "song of the vineyard" the prophet describes how the Lord, having chosen his land, carefully cleared it, tilled it, and planted it with only the finest vines, yet it yielded nothing but bitter wild grapes.
The prophet then makes it clear that the vineyard represents the Lord’s chosen people Israel, and that the he will punish this vineyard by uprooting it: "The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; he looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! for justice, but hark, the outcry!" (Isa 5:7).
The theme of choosing continues in the responsorial Psalm, where the inspired writer recalls the exodus of the chosen Israelites from Egypt and their entry into the promised land: "A vine from Egypt you transplanted; you drove away the nations and planted it" (Ps 80:9).
There too the rebellion of Israel is noted, as well as a plea for restoration: "Give us new life, and we will call upon your name. O Lord, God of hosts, restore us" (Ps 80:19-20).
When it comes to the Gospel parable of the vineyard the chief priests and the elders could hardly have doubted that Jesus was referring Isaiah’s words to them, for his words follow closely upon the "song of the vineyard," which they would likely have known by heart. Again we hear how a landowner selected a plot, carefully prepared and planted it, and then leased it out to tenants whom he expected to look after his vineyard and help it bear a good harvest. Being badly scorned by them and seeing his servants beaten and killed he then sends his beloved son, who is likewise killed—an unmistakable reference to Christ himself and to his violent death.
The parable concludes with the warning that the landowner will come back and "put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times." Here we see an allusion to the general lack of reception that Jesus found from his own people. As the Declaration Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican council states: "As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did the Jews in large number accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading."
We rejoice that we Christians are the living fulfillment of the prophecy "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (Matt 21:42). What we must remember is that, firstly, the same possibility of jeopardy faces us if the vineyard of the Lord does not bear fruit on our watch, and secondly, the original choice of the Lord is never defeated, it simply yields new harvests of growth and blessings even if it takes unexpected turns through history. In this regard Nostra Aetate continues: "Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues…the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and 'serve him shoulder to shoulder.'" Now that is a choice and a harvest of salvation for which we can all be glad!
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.