The Tenants of the Vineyard
In this beautiful homily for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Father Hanly looks at The Parable of the Tenants and helps us understand how we, the tenants of the vineyard, should behave — how we should follow Jesus and heal the world.
Readings for Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
- First Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20
- Second Reading: Philippians 4:6-9
- Gospel: Matthew 21:33-43
This has to be the saddest Gospel of all.
You remember, now, that these last two weeks it was all about God’s vineyard. And, of course, to we Christians, when you say God’s vineyard, we think of Jesus saying, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Bear fruit!”
The first time, the first parable, it was about the head, the owner of the vineyard. And he went out five times to gather men to work in his vineyard. And you remember — everybody forgets — that the one who we love in this parable is the man, because he went out into the town five times, all day long.
And the last one only had to work for an hour, but he still went out — because he knew what it was like to be unemployed and he knew what it was like to be fearful that you wouldn’t have enough food when you came home to feed your family — and so we love him for it.
And when he paid them all the same price, he was right. No man is measured by money. He’s measured by what he needs and what he has contributed. And so it is they all got the same pay.
And they all went home happy except the jealous ones. The jealous ones, of course, said, “We should get more,” and that immortal cry we hear around us all the time from the smallest children to the time we die: “It’s not fair!”
And I think what Jesus would say: “Life is not supposed to be fair, it’s supposed to be good. We don’t measure you out and then pay you off, we try to give everything to you.”
And the one who does this, of course, is not only Jesus, but his Father, as well.
Now the second parable has all kinds of implications. It’s very simple. It’s like the story of the man who had two sons and one was faithful and the other asked for his money — the Prodigal Son — and went away, ruined it and spent all of the money.
But this time it’s two sons, one, the older one, the father says to him, “Go out into my vineyard.”
Now the father, we already know, loves his vineyard. We know how hard he worked on it. He put in a watchtower to guard it. He put hedges around it. He did a wine press. He did everything to make it like a Garden of Eden.
And then he lent it out to people. He lent it out. They were not the owners of the vineyard, they were the caretakers of the vineyard.
Like God said to Adam, “Take care of all of creation,” after He made it. “Now go out and take care of it. It doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to Me.”
But we think that, because we have it in our pocket or we can buy it some place, that we own it. We don’t own anything.
We have something even greater though. We have been given this world as a gift from God to experience joy and happiness and sharing, all these things that at our best moments we dream of.
And so the two sons. One said, “I’m not going,” and he goes. And the one that says, “I’m going, Father. I’ll do whatever you like,” and he doesn’t.
And that’s a little message about who owns the vineyard and who is invited to tend this wonderful vineyard.
And we are the guests and all should remember that. In the vineyard of God, we are the guests and the vineyard is given into our hands because God loves us, no other reason. He really doesn’t want to make a profit, He just wants us to be content and happy and grateful. All He expects is a thank you.
Today’s one, though, is very sad, because you can tell, and I’ll read you the part again, you can tell Jesus…
Now, you must know the setting of the third parable. Jesus is telling this story in the temple. He has already been through Palm Sunday when the little children cry out, “Hosanna! Save us now!” And his enemies had gathered themselves during this great Sabbath day to somehow, somehow to, destroy him.
And they were the leaders. They were not the ordinary people. And they weren’t even all the leaders. They were just all those who felt that, by right, the vineyard belonged to them. And there was going to be no compromising. This person would steal it away and give it to the whole world — it just was not fair.
And so Jesus looks at them…
And I’ll read that part again now:
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
— only a few of them, not to the whole Jewish people.
“Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
These are the prophets of Jewish history who have come again and again to say to the people, “Come back to the Lord. He loves you, He needs you, He wants you, and you’re wandering all over the place making a mess of everything.”
Again, he sent other servants and, finally, finally, and this is the part that makes it so sad (and Jesus is saying these words to the men who will actually put into practice the story in this parable):
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking,
‘They will respect my son.’
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
‘This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’
Because the vineyard belongs to people who know how to work in the vineyard and bring profit — and all the other nonsense.
But they don’t love the vineyard. And because they don’t love it, they have no right to it.
This is something that we must learn, you know. We’re not piling up stuff that we have a right to. We’re sharing things that if, out of love, we share, we reap a harvest.
And the harvest will be to bring peace and kindness and fairness and justice to a world which it needs much more than putting more money in the bank.
Finally, and this is what they did, they seized him.
Jesus is speaking now:
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
And the men themselves answered, because these men understood fairness. These men were good men, but they were blinded by their own jealousy.
They answered him,
“He will 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.”
And they’re right.
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?
The cornerstone, of course, is the broken stone, just a big chunk of stone, but a new group and a new people and a new feeling is that we will always remember the past and the destruction of our temple and all the awful things that happened very quickly, and out of the cornerstone we will rebuild the vineyard.
And, of course, that is what we do. And now the vineyard is not only for the faithful Jews, but also it is for everyone, everyone in the whole world.
What makes it so sad is does he really have to die? Does he have to be rejected? Does the Son of God have no right to some kind of priority? Is this a God gone mad?
How could He send His Son (because we know the scripture also says, and very clearly, “God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to the world”)?
And here’s the key now — listen carefully to the key — this only makes sense, this whole story only makes sense, if you believe that God loves and that God understands that in this world, that He Himself created, there is great sorrow and sadness and pain.
And the idea for others is: if you don’t have the land, go out and get it, or be highly educated, or be some kind of person that takes advantage of the vineyard.
And what God is saying: “I will show you that the only way to overcome the sadness, the sorrow, the pain, the agony that many, many, many (if not all of us) experience — if not always, certainly at certain moments in our lives, at times — and the only way is to follow Jesus.”
And what does Jesus do?
Two days later, he’s on the cross and everybody is shouting at him. They want the vineyard. And he looks up at his Father and he says, “Forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”
And at that moment we understand. And it still puzzles us, but out of pain comes a new world. And if there were no pain, it would never happen.
Because it must be based on freedom.
And a person who is given the freedom of God must also choose, as God Himself has chosen, to heal and save the world.
And what it means for us Christians is that we are members of the vineyard. Each one, individually, must make a choice.
And that choice is when you overcome, when you help to move the great vision of Jesus, a world of peace and joy and happiness and caring.
Will we become forgivers? Will we become people who reach out to the lost and the lonely?
Because this, it is only love, God’s love and our love, that can actually reach down and destroy the pain and terror and horror that is known as part of the world in which we live.
And so we are left this morning with a wonderful story, a painful story.
God does not give up like the Pharisee is saying, “If we kill his son, what will He do?”
He will sit in silence and He will hear His Son.
And He hears His Son say the words, “Forgiveness, Father, not destruction. Love, Father, not rejection. Kindness, Father, and not stern justice.”
And this is the only way that we can save each other and heal the world.