Faith, Fellowship and Fun

Matthew 21:33-43
Matt. 21:33   Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.
  1. The target audience of this allegorical parable are the Jewish chief priests and elders portrayed here as rejecting Jesus and his teaching and, as a consequence, losing out on what God was offering them. It is a story of opportunity for life presented and rejected, and they lose out in the process. How important have you found it to recognize and accept opportunities for growth, development and new life when these were presented to you?
  2. The parable is also a cautionary tale about the destructive effects of greed – doing violence to the rights of others and eventually destroying the greedy themselves. What attitude towards possessions has helped you to be at peace in yourself and at peace with others?
  3. The vineyard of the Lord is an image for God’s people. As we look at the vineyard we have been given, we can ask ourselves “are we good tenants?” Recall times when you have been a good tenant, and reached out caringly for those around you.
  4. “It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone. This was the Lord’s doing and it was wonderful to see”. Sometimes a person not highly regarded plays a key role in a project, and it is wonderful to see. Can you recall examples of this?

This uncomfortable parable is also found in Mark 12:1-12 and Luke 20:9-19. The context is important—in the narrative of the Gospel, this parable is offered within the temple in Jerusalem and the closing verses (omitted by the editors of the lectionary) let us know exactly what we are dealing with. Once more in Matthew, the break with the mother religion is at stake.

This is, of course, a parable. However, this particular parable is very close to an allegory, in the sense that the figures in the narrative fairly clearly refer to stages in Israelite history and to the suffering and death of Jesus. Following the allegories of the Old Testament, the owner is God; the vineyard is Israel; the tenants are the Jewish leaders; the servants are the prophets; the son is Jesus; the new tenants are the early church.

Thought for the day
The risk for Christians today is that we read the parable complacently, because it clearly refers to Jews and Christians in the first century. But it is not only in the past that the leadership of God’s project has changed hands, so to speak. Down through history, more committed groups have challenged the established Church—they can attract by more exciting worship and by a closer living of the Gospel. The hard words of St Paul to the Gentile Christians in Rome may help to shake us up: For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. (Rom 11:21)


The parable of the ‘murderous tenants’ addressed by Jesus to the religious leaders of his time, is so harsh that many Christians have a hard time seeing what it has to do with us.

Sometimes we think this threatening parable is addressed to people in the Old Testament - not to us, the people of the New Covenant who have Christ’s promise to be with us always.

Certainly the main protagonists are the workers in the vineyard. Their behaviour is evil. They aren’t at all like the owner, who gives the land the attention and love it needs.

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, the parable was read as a confirmation that the Church had taken over responsibility for Israel - but it was never taken to mean that the ‘new Israel’ would always be faithful to the lord of the vineyard.

The kingdom of God does not belong to the Church. It does not belong to the hierarchy. It is not the property of this or that theological current. The Father is the only owner. No one should claim ownership of God’s truth or God’s spirit. The reign of God is in ‘the people who produce the fruits’ of justice, compassion, and the defence of the last and the least.

The most tragic thing that could happen to Christianity today would be to kill the voice of the prophets, or to let the chief priests consider themselves owners of the Lord’s vineyard, or for all of us together to ‘throw the Son out’ by suppressing his Spirit. If the Church does not respond to the hopes that the Lord has placed in it, God will open new ways of salvation among peoples who produce fruit.

The danger is always the same. Israel was very sure of itself: it had the Holy Scriptures; it had the temple; it scrupulously celebrate the ritual of worship; it` preached the Law; it defended the religious institutions. It saw no need for anything new.

That is our danger too. We feel secure because we hold the title to Christ But God does not belong to anyone. If the Church does not produce the expected fruit, God will go on opening new ways to salvation.

JOSÉ A PAGOLA - The Way Opened up by Jesus
The important aspect of the parable is the attitude to the harvest. In the Isaiah reading today the problem was the sour grapes but now it shifts to the idea that the tenants think that they are the owners and they should decide what to do with the harvest. In essence they have not only forgotten what they owe to God but are cutting themselves off from God. Jesus rebukes them for this and warns that the vineyard will be taken from them and given to those who will deliver its fruit in due season. The leaders’ rejection of Jesus prepares the way for the events of Holy Week. Ironically, by plotting to get rid of him, they are opening up the way for the vineyard to be shared by all.

The temptation with this story is to read it as a condemnation of another people in another time. But that is not why it is proclaimed in our Sunday Eucharist. When we assemble as a community we are reminded that it is the risen Lord who calls us together. He blesses us with forgiveness and strengthens us through the Eucharist, yet he is also asking for the fruits of Christian living. Are we caring for the weak among us? Are we working for reconciliation or are we guilty of hypocrisy? This Sunday, let us look at the vineyard that we have been given snd ask ourselves “Are we good tenants?”

SEAN GOAN - Let the Reader Understand
Today's passage is complex.  Several different strands have been woven into it, all with their own main characters, their own movement and their own atmosphere. In our meditation we need to look at each strand individually and then, if we are so inclined, to see a link between them.

The landowner represents us when we give our all as parents, teachers, church or other community leaders. He also represents the founders of religious orders, social movements or political parties. A time comes when we must all let go of our authority (“go abroad”) and entrust to others the people or causes we have served. The parable reminds us of the shock we experience when we learn that our trust has been betrayed.

The landowner also represents God so that the parable invites us to enter into God's feelings when he sees how we human beings treat his precious sons and daughters and his beautiful nature.

The parable is also the story of the “tenants” . The violence of the tenants in the parable may seem exaggerated on a first reading, but they are a dramatic reminder of the violence which is so much a part of our modern Western culture - against nature, minorities, men against women, adults against children. In each case it is a matter of “tenants” being angry at being reminded that they are accountable.
The parable reminds us too that the sense of stewardship should be fostered by our religious faith. The fact is however that we religious people, “chief priests and elders of our people,” can forget our dependence on God and no longer thank him for his gifts.

Finally the parable is the story of the landowner’ son, ill-treated and killed but eventually become the cornerstone of a new era.  We “landowners” have been deeply hurt but we do not allow ourselves to despair, we know that if God's providence triumphs goodness will prevail.

MICHEL DE VERTEUIL- Lectio Divina on the Sunday Gospels
RapidWeaver Icon

Made in RapidWeaver