ISAIAH 5:1-7 | PHILIPPIANS 4:6-9 | MATTHEW 21:33-43
Jesus continues his duel with the chief priests and elders in the gospel passage today. He confronts them with yet another parable about the vineyard. Every Jew knew and loved Isaiah’s prophetic proclamation: “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.” In fact, over the entrance to the sanctuary of the temple there was a great vine cast in gold. The faithful added golden grapes, leaves or berries to it in memory of loved ones or as an act of personal devotion.
Jesus began the parable with a description of an active vineyard. The Israel of Jesus’ time was in bad shape politically and economically. Landowners often lived outside of Israel and rented their property. The landowner of this property planted a hedge around it to keep out wild animals and thieves. He dug a wine press, and built a protective observation tower in the middle of the vineyard. The time had come for the tenants to pay the rent.
The situation presented in the parable mirrors the situation in Israel. God, the landowner, did all he could to make the property safe and productive. However, when vintage time came and he sent out his servants to collect his rent in the form of produce the tenants beat then, and they even killed some. So, he sent his son to them believing that his son would be able to speak some sense into them. But they killed his son.
At this point Jesus engaged the elders and chief priests. “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” Their answer was a self-condemnation. “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 time.” Israel was God’s vineyard. The chief priests and elders were the tenants entrusted with the harvest, but they returned nothing. They mistreated and killed the prophets God sent to help them. Prophetically, Jesus revealed to them that they would also kill the landowner’s son.
So, that’s the parable and its interpretation as Jesus spoke it. But his parables transcend specific times and places. What might this parable mean for us today?
When we were baptized, each of us was anointed, commissioned to carry on the ministry of Jesus – to work in the vineyard of the Lord – to gather the harvest. To connect with another metaphor Jesus used, we were called to be “fishers of men.” To accomplish this, we’ve been asked to follow one commandment, a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesus’ love was, and continues to be, a sacrificial love. The message of the kingdom isn’t always a spoken one. In fact, most of the time, it’s manifested through our everyday actions and attitudes. As Marshall McLuhan would say, “The medium is the message.” The way we live and interact, mirroring the sacrificial love of Jesus, is the way we preach the kingdom. It’s the way we pull in the great catch of fish. It’s the way we gather the harvest. We’ve been given the vineyard to till. Let’s never forget our baptismal agreement to work in the vineyard of the Lord.