Sunday, 02 October 2011 00:00
As we have it, the parable retold by Matthew is most likely an embellishment of the original story narrated by Jesus. Jesus castigated the religious leaders of his time for rejecting and persecuting the prophets of old, including him. Very often the religious leaders held on to their power over Israel, symbolized by the vineyard, making life burdensome for the people, signified by keeping the fruits of the vineyard for themselves.
Matthew expands the parable of Jesus to encompass salvation history. God is the landowner, the vineyard Israel (Is 5:1-7), and the tenants to whom the vineyard is leased the political and religious leaders of Israel. The servants sent to collect the produce of the land are the prophets rejected by the leaders, who connive to exterminate the son of the vineyard owner, Jesus Christ. The tenants are severely punished, an allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and the vineyard is leased to other tenants, referring now to the Early Church composed of gentiles and Jewish disciples of the Risen Lord.
In many ways we are like the tenants in the allegory: First, we cherish our blessings, but usurp what does not rightfully belong to us. The tenants wanted to retain stewardship over the vineyard while keeping the landowner’s harvest to them. How so like many petty government workers who hold on to their employment while exploiting their positions by taking what does not belong to them. How so like business establishments that value their business permits, but keep the profits to themselves by not paying their employees the just wage and the government the taxes due. How so like philandering husbands who value dearly their families, but carry on and maintain illicit affairs.
Second, we devote ourselves to the Lord, but hold on to the one thing preventing us from a deeper union with God. Like the tenants, who were perhaps committed to their families, worshipped regularly in their local synagogue, observed their dietary and purity customs, yet were dishonest in their work, we are morally fragmented. Many aspects of our lives are totally aligned with God’s will. Alas, some are skewed. We strive to conform our hearts and minds to God’s. Alas, some aspects of our thinking and loving go against God’s ways. As St Ignatius reflects in his meditation on the Three Classes of Men, many of us indeed are faithful and devoted servants of the Lord. We surrender everything that we are and have to the Lord except the one sinful pattern of behavior that we, like the tenants who misappropriate the produce, futilely conceal from God.
Third, because we have clear ideas about the Lord and how to serve the Lord, we sometimes reject God’s invitation to expand our understanding of the Lord and of our Christian mission. Many of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized were faithful to God and sincere teachers of the Law. As monotheists who believed, worshipped and defended the honor of the One God, they could not conceive God as utterly transcendent and at the same time incarnate in Jesus Christ. Perhaps they rejected Jesus because of their fidelity to their monotheistic faith.
Might we not be like the Pharisees, the tenants in the parable, who have fixed ideas about God and religion, morality and politics? Our commitments sometimes verge on fanaticism or dogmatism, so that when God confounds us and reveals Himself to us in a new way, we are blind to the Lord’s illumination and deaf to God’s word. We fervently defend our notions of God and the good, unknowingly rejecting the promptings of the Spirit to expand our understanding of the mystery of God and of God’s divine will.
With regard these three ways we are likened to the tenants in the parable, we pray for integrity — to perform our duties and responsibilities with diligence and honesty, for courage — to surrender to God all that is hindering us from deeper intimacy with Him, and for humility — to allow the Lord to ever confound and challenge us to constantly rethink and renew our understanding of and witness to God.
As we wrestle with the mystery of God and the mystery of human suffering, we say a special prayer for all the victims of Typhoons Pedring and Quiel.
Published: The Philippine Star