Proper 22-A Ex 20:1-20; Phil 3:4b-14; Mt 21:33-46
Church of the Epiphany, South Haven Fr. Joseph Neiman
Theme: “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” (Mt 21:40)
“What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” This is a frightening question because it is about us! What will the owner, God, do to us during or at the end of our lives and/or at the end of history when we, as tenants (stewards), have to answer for what we have done with the vineyard of our lives, with the vineyard of our church, with the vineyard of our country?
The parable has clear allegorical features: “the vineyard is Israel; the tenant farmers are Israel’s leaders; the householder is God; the earlier messengers are the prophets; and the son is Jesus.”[i] The scene that Matthew is describing is taking place in the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem. Throughout chapter 21 to 23, Jesus is engage in controversy with the chief priests and the elders of the people. He entered Jerusalem to the applause of the crowd (in what we call Palm Sunday), turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple causing thereby a great disturbance and judgment on the Temple program, and is now teaching the people, the pilgrims from throughout the land, assembling for the Passover festival.
Last week we heard the leaders, the chief priests and the elders, challenge Jesus by asking him by what authority he was teaching since he did not have the approbation of the chief priests, the Temple authorities. Matthew, in writing up whatever actually happened historically, puts the event into a typical scene of a rabbi with potential disciples: Jesus answers challenges with a question to engage those present in thinking about the whole issue involved. That’s what we heard last week, and hear once again this morning.
Having told the story of the householder and the tenant farmers, how they refused to give to the householder his “fruit,” killed his messengers, and finally even killed his son believing thereby they could take over the vineyard. Jesus asks those assembled: “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” “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.’ (Mt 21:40-41).
It is a great story, and gives a judgment on some of the history of our ancestors in faith, the Jewish people. But it is also the Word of God for us this morning, and so what does it mean?
[i] Daniel Harrington, SJ, The Gospel of Matthew (Liturgical Press, 1991), Sacra Pagina Vol 1:303.