The Wicked Tenants

Gospel Matthew 21:33-43 

Dear Friends, today is the 27th Sunday of the year and there are similarities between the First Reading and the Gospel. They both focus on the same subject – the Lord’s Vineyard and the necessity of bearing good fruit. Failure to produce good fruits ultimately leads to rejection.

In the first reading we hear about the ‘song of the vineyard’. In the song, Isaiah describes God as the owner of a beautiful vineyard. The owner does everything possible to produce sweet grapes. “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I had not done?” But the vineyard ended up producing sour wild grapes. Hence God laments, “I expected My vineyard to yield good grapes. Why did it yield sour ones instead?”

The Prophet warns the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah that they, the vine, will be rejected by God because of their injustice and non-observance of the law. It is a parable of tragedy – announcing Divine wrath and displeasure. Isaiah is insinuating that the conquering army of the Assyrian Empire was God’s tool of punishment for the Jewish infidelity to the covenant with God.

In the Gospel, Jesus compares Israel to a vineyard, specially fenced, with a watch tower, where a keeper is on the lookout to protect it from thieves. God has spared no effort to cultivate and embellish His vineyard. The vineyard is in the charge of tenant farmers, the householder is God and the vineyard, Israel. The tenants to whom God has given the care of His people are the priests, scribes and the elders. The owner’s absence makes it clear that God really did entrust Israel to its leaders, hence their responsibility and the account He demands of them. The owner used to send his servants from time to time to collect the fruit; this was the mission of the Prophets. The second dispatch of servants to claim what is owing to the owner – who meet the same fate as the first – refers to the way God’s Prophets were maltreated by the kings and priests of Israel. Finally he sent his son to them, thinking that they would have more respect for him. Here we can see the difference between Jesus and the Prophets, who were servants, not ‘the son’. The parable expresses the Divinity of Jesus Christ.

The malicious purpose of the tenants in murdering the son and heir to keep the inheritance for themselves is the madness of the leaders in expecting to become undisputed masters of Israel by putting Christ to death. Their ambition blinds them to the punishment that awaits them. ‘They cast him out of the vineyard and killed him,’ is a reference to Christ’s crucifixion, which took place outside the walls of Jerusalem. Jesus prophesies the punishment God will inflict on the evil-doers. He will put them to death and rent the vineyard to others.

Dear Friends, today the New Israel is the Church. We are God’s people. We are the tenants in the vineyard. We are specially privileged, by Baptism, to be called to work in the Lord’s vineyard. Now He expects us to bear fruit; fruit that will last.

How do we bear good fruits?

Jesus gives the answer in John 15:4-5 – Abide in Me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

Bearing fruit in the Christian life requires abiding in Jesus. And Jesus has given the vineyard that is the Church – everything necessary to make us produce good fruit. He has given us the Bible to know the will of God and put it into practice, the institution of the Priesthood to lead the people in God’s way and the Sacraments. We are therefore expected to make use of these gifts and produce fruits for God.

In the second reading, St Paul encourages the Christian community at Philippi to respond to God’s loving initiative by letting their faith in Christ bear abundant fruit in daily life. He advises them to strive towards whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely and gracious. In a sense, this is the kind of fruitfulness that St Paul wanted the Christian community to grow into – by instilling in them the necessity of prayer and the importance of virtues. Also, he tells them not to worry or be anxious about anything but to always pray with gratitude and put all their worries and anxieties into the hands of God with confidence and conviction, then the God of peace will be with them. In addition, St Paul exhorts the believers of Philippi to put into practice what they have learned and received from him.

The advice of St Paul to the Christians of Philippi is also valuable to us. Doing what he tells the Philippians will also make us produce good spiritual fruits. Amen.