Meditation of the week

Our care of the vineyard

Matthew  21,33-43.

This parable is an adaptation by Matthew of one found in Mark 12,1-12. The theme of Israel as God’s vineyard is a regular Old Testament one, today’s first reading (Is 5,1-7) being  a particularly good example of it. The landowner plants his vineyard with love and care, fortifies it against all unwelcome intruders, rents it out to tenants and goes abroad.

At harvest time his servants go to collect his produce from the tenants. One is beaten up, another killed and a third stoned. The following day a larger batch of servants are treated just as badly. The two batches of servants refer allegorically to the way the pre- and post -exilic prophets were treated in Israel. They received rough treatment at the hands of the people and the political and religious establishment e.g Elijah and Jeremiah. (The exile took place in 587 BC when the leading citizens of Judah were exiled to Babylon -a part of modern day Iraq).

The vineyard owner’s hope that they will respect his son is dashed with their seizing him, throwing him out of the vineyard and killing him with the intention of claiming the vineyard, his inheritance, as theirs. Matthew emphasizes that the son is killed outside the vineyard which parallels Jesus’ death outside Jerusalem. Strangely he omits the adjective “beloved” with reference to the “son”.

Jesus again involves his listeners in discerning what the vineyard-owner will do to the tenants when his son is killed. They will “ come to a wretched end” and the vineyard will be rented out to people who will produce fruit in the harvest season.  The” wretched end” could be a reference to the destruction and fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

For Matthew the key to the parable is that the servants did not produce the fruit expected of the vineyard, the people of Israel, and therefore it will be handed over to tenants who will produce the fruit at the proper season, next time around. The kingdom will be taken from the old Israel and handed over to the faithful from both Jews and Gentiles i.e the Church, the new and true Israel, who will produce its fruits. The fruits are the good works which exemplify the values of the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ teaching in general – the New Law.

The rejected stone which becomes the cornerstone (Psalm 118,22) is a reference to Jesus’ resurrection  which completes the story of the “killed Son” in the parable.

The parable describes the Church and each one of us. The vineyard represents the many graces and blessings which God generously gives us to use for the good of the Church and our own spiritual benefit. He patiently gives us the time and space to use them. Like the vineyard owner, He gives us every chance, and has given us His Son out of love for us. Do we respect His Son and all he has done for us? How do we show it?

Today’s gospel also invites people who have grown up with faith in Jesus Christ, or in the Catholic Faith tradition, and then lost it or rejected that faith, to think again of the grace they were once given and ask for it back from the Lord.

Father Geoff O’Grady