October 2, 2011
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
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, OSB