Today’s readings remind us that the more we hoard things for ourselves, to more miserable we make ourselves and others.
In today’s First Reading Isaiah describes the misuse and abuse of the people of Israel by their leaders as being like vines ripe for cultivation and left unattended. Vineyards evoke images of careful cultivation by skilled vintners with the expectation of fine vintages of wine. The Lord had prepared Israel like a fine vineyard, and Israel’s leaders like vintners with everything at their disposal to be fruitful and successful. What the Lord received instead were wild grapes. Grapes with no cultivation, left to grow or die by chance, depending on weather and other conditions, were not very good grapes. If anything good grew at all it was not thanks to the vintners, and what grew in such an unfavorable situation was not of much worth. The leaders of Israel were expected to cultivate justice and peace in their subjects, and they didn’t.
In today’s Second Reading St. Paul teaches that the peace of God and the shelter of our hearts and minds in Christ depend on our attitude and the things we value as important. Envy and greed can lead to inaction, but anxiety can have the same effect. Paul counsels us in moments of anxiety to ask God for what we need, but in a spirit of gratitude for what the Lord has already done. That’s the best remedy to a warped sense of entitlement when things don’t go as we’d like. Our Lord has promised us that the Heavenly Father knows what we need before we even ask (see Matthew 6:8), so there is no need to worry. If we occupy ourselves with truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, graciousness, and excellence we’ll not only experience the peace of God, but help to spread it.
In today’s Gospel Our Lord invites us to imagine a group of men given the opportunity of a lifetime, both professionally and personally: not only a good place to live, but a great way to make a living. Imagine a business at a good location, with an abundant clientele, a great lease, and the job of making a lot of people happy (the vineyard is for producing wine, throughout Scripture, symbolizes joy). If that weren’t enough, the men running the business also have a wonderful place to live and a great landlord. Any outside observer would say that professionally and personally the owner has been very good to his tenants, even going beyond what a tenant would expect or deserve. All the owner asks in return is a share of the joy that he hoped the tenants would produce.
This is where the mystery of sin enters: mystery in the sense of sin, ultimately, following no logic but its own, a twisted logic that bends everything around it and denies greater truths eventually at its own expense. The tenants start beating up the people coming to collect the owner’s fair share and leaving him empty handed. There’s no remorse: gradually they start killing them too. The owner shows a kindness that the tenants, to any outside observer, do not deserve. He keeps giving them opportunities until one day he gives them the greatest and most definitive opportunity: he sends the heir himself, a reminder that he is the owner and they are the tenants, and an extension of his very self.
In their twisted logic they convince themselves that by eliminating the heir any trace of ownership will die with the owner, and he’ll also stop bothering them (the son was the last one he could send, as the parable narrates). The chief priests, scribes, and elders pronounce judgment on this “theoretical” case and their own words condemn what they themselves are doing. Our Lord is the cornerstone. You can’t even speak of having a structure, having a building, without a cornerstone–it joins two walls together. Many “tenants” who’ve received so much kindness, personally and professionally, from God want to monopolize the joy they could give to God and others, and as a result impoverish any joy they could really give.
They deny something fundamental, something structural: that the owner and his heir are what make their life possible, whether they acknowledge it or not, and eventually second chances (and third, and fourth, etc.) are exhausted and mercy has to give way to justice. The parable of the wicked tenants in today’s Gospel is a way of teaching the Pharisees that they had fallen into a warped sense of entitlement over something that didn’t belong to them: the People of God. So when the Son comes on behalf of the true “owner” of the People of God they’re going to reject him and kill him thinking that somehow everything will then return to normal. Our Lord today through the parable is prophesying the outcome of their covetousness and envy: everything they thought was theirs will be taken away and given to those who’ll be worthy stewards of God’s gifts.
Paul reminded us today about how we can pay our Lord his due: truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, graciousness, and excellence. Those things don’t just bring peace and joy into our lives, but also in those we know and love. Let’s contemplate today the kindness of God in our lives and ask him to help us to see how we can work with him to bring joy to him, to others, and to ourselves.
Readings: Isaiah 5:1–7; Psalm 80:9, 12–16, 19–20; Philippians 4:6–9; Matthew 21:33–43.