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The parable of the tenants

Gospel Reading: Mt 21:33-43
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the 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, but they treated them in the same way. 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.’ 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?” 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.” 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? Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.

Wanting it all
The Gospel, as scholars generally point out, presents allegorically in summary form the history of salvation. The landowner is God, and the vineyard is the people of Israel with their privileged position as God’s chosen people (cf Is 5:1-7). The tenants are the religious and political leaders who reject and maltreat the servants, the prophets sent by God again and again. The son of the vineyard owner is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the stone that the builders rejected that has become the cornerstone.

The parable highlights the importance of stewardship. The punishment that comes upon the treacherous tenants is a consequence of their failure to acknowledge that they are stewards, not owners, of the vineyard. Stewardship is being entrusted with the care of something. Necessarily, it always entails accountability. This is described in terms of “producing the fruits” for the owner of the vineyard.

Throughout the parable, there is an emphasis on the importance of producing or bearing fruit. At the beginning, the owner sends servants to the tenants “to obtain his produce” (v 34). When the wicked tenants fail to deliver, the vineyard is taken away from them and is leased to “other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times” (v 41). At the end, it is the Kingdom of God that is given to “a people that will produce its fruit” (v 43).

The need to bear fruit – this applies also to relationships among people. Once a relationship ceases to be fruitful, it begins to die. This is also true of discipleship. Once the follower of Jesus stops yielding the “good fruit” the Lord expects, the person ceases to be a disciple.

Aside from their failure to bear good fruits, the wicked tenants fail in stewardship. They are also guilty of coveting what rightly belongs to the owner of the vineyard. For many people, desire is a good motivator in order to achieve goals that have been set and accomplish tasks that have been planned. But when desire means “wanting it all” regardless of the means utilized, then it becomes covetousness. The very motive that moves one to excel becomes an obsession that leads to one’s own destruction.

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