These few chapters of Matthew are fierce. In them we find Jesus kicking over tables in the Temple, cursing a fig tree for not bearing fruit, and in this parable today, attacking the Pharisees as ‘bad tenants.’
It’s hard to imagine tenants behaving so outrageously, or an absentee landowner dealing with his renters in the way this landowner does. In the real world, you’d expect these tenants to be brought before the courts and punished. Not only does this not happen, but the owner of the vineyard seems incredibly naïve as he keeps on believing that they’ll eventually do the right thing.
The bad news underlying this parable is that there’s an undercurrent of self-interested evil in the world, that aims to undermine the good and to overcome God’s love for the world. We see it time and time again, from violence on our streets and in our homes, to self-interested corporate crime. We see it too, in the vast and growing gap between rich and poor, where the poor struggle to find even enough food to eat, while the rich ‘tenants’ live in luxury. Evil is easy to justify when we bury ourselves in our own issues and decide to take matters into our own hands, and wreak our own brand of justice. But the good news is that God is just like the owner of the vineyard – patient with us and always hoping for the best in us. That is the good news we can hold onto in difficult days for the world, and for ourselves.
But it is also true that we, the Church, are the current tenants of God’s vineyard. When the owner backs up the trucks to load the harvest, what will we have to load? Are we actually producing the kingdom harvest that the owner was hoping for, or we simply self-interested tenants, protecting our rights and interests at the expense of others?
In peace, Mother Lynda