The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Matthew 21: 33-43)
What more could I have done for my vineyard? … cries the land owner, the parent, the teacher…This was the lament of someone who had done everything he possibly could but who met with nothing but ingratitude. Here is a modern version of the parable:
What more could I have done for my children cries Peter and Anne. Anne narrates her story. Peter and I had four children. We grew up in very hard times, but we wanted our children to have the things we didn’t have. We bought a good house in the city keeping in mind the education of our children. Peter did overtime work to earn a little extra. Many were the nights when I didn’t get a wink of sleep because of them. They had a lot of illnesses in their childhood. We sent them to the best schools available in the city. They never lacked books or school outing. They were always well dressed. We taught them good values. We taught them catechism. We said the Rosary ever night.
Now look, what we got from them in return.
John, the oldest, quit university and went to work in a bar. But later because of his ambition and hard work he became the proud owner of the prestigious John bar groups Ltd. He has become very rich. Now money has become his god. All what he sends to us are a couple of bottles during Christmas.
Annie, the second is a teacher, married to a fellow with a big job. They don’t believe in having children. They never come to see us. All what we get are a few cards a year send from their exotic places of visit.
Pete seemed to be happily married with three children, when he suddenly left them and went to live with a young girl. He never shows up!
Paul, the youngest, still unmarried is touring the world like a hippie. He doesn’t believe in working or settling down.
As far as we know not one of them goes to Church. Now what more could we have done for them? Do we deserve to be treated like this?
Jesus tells this very interesting and provocative story about a landowner and some farmers to whom he rented his land. In Jesus’ story, the landowner does all the work in the beginning. The land is his, and he plants a vineyard. He digs a winepress where the grapes can be crushed and the juice extracted. He builds a watchtower so the crop can be guarded from thieves. Everything is in order for a great crop of grapes. The twist in the story is that he then rents the vineyard out to a group of tenant farmers and goes away. The farmers are to tend to the crop and the land, and when it is time, gives him his share of the harvest. It is a simple plan and everyone wins. The landowner gets what belongs to him, and the tenants are provided for and get what belongs to them.
But a problem arises when there is a rebellion among the farmers against the landowner. There is no mention that he has treated them unfairly or has wronged them in any way. That is not the issue. The problem is that they get greedy. They no longer want to be the tenants of the vineyard; they want to be the owners. They want it all — all the crop and all the land as well. So when the farmer sends his servants to collect his rightful share of the fruit, the farmers mistreat and beat the servants, even killing some of them.
Aesop tells of a dog with a bone. He crosses a bridge over a stream. He looks at his reflection. He decides it is a second dog with a bigger bone. He goes for the bone. His own falls to the stream’s bottom. Now he has no bone. The tenants of today’s parable are similar. Because of greed, they lost their jobs.
This happens several times until the landowner finally sends his son, expecting that they will respect him and give the landowner what he is owed. But the farmers conspire even against the son. They say to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance. The land and the crops and everything else will be ours.” Then they took him outside the vineyard and killed him.
Understanding the Parable
A place in the vineyard – God made a special place for His chosen people, a place He described in Isaiah 5:1-7 as a vineyard. After all that the Lord had done for Israel, what more could He do than send messengers to hold them accountable and communicate His will in what He expected of them.
A wide variety of messengers – How many ways did the Lord come to His people in His vineyard to hold them accountable and express to them His will?
He sent Noah, the Flood and Death. The sin that began in the Garden of Eden grew until it covered the whole world. The world needed a cleansing, and God sent the flood, he saved Noah and his family, mankind began over again, but the effect of the flood only lasted a few years and man was going down into sin’s dungeon again.
God made a covenant with Abraham and made him the father of the Nations. God’s people were slaves in Egypt, he sent Moses to bring them out to a land flowing with milk and honey. One would think they would be grateful, but less than a hundred miles in their journey, they already sinned against Almighty God.
He sent David with songs of assurance and forgiveness. David sang “The Lord is my Shepherd” over and over he told of the greatness of God, and how he cares for those who trust in him. Soon the sweet singer of Israel fell into sin, then he repented and came back to tell how happy a man can be after God has forgiven him, and put away his sins. But the testimonies of David did not move the people, they went on and on in their sins.
He sent Isaiah with his loving Invitations. This prophet told more about Jesus than any other OT prophet, Isaiah went and cried out “Come let us reason together”, and “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;”, but the people went on in sin.
The tears of Jeremiah did no good either. Hosea the prophet of God’s spoke of God’s unconditional love, the miracles of Elijah and Elisha went in vain, so too the warnings of all the prophets.
He sent the Kings of the earth, with captivity and chastisement. God told his people if they sinned and went into idolatry, he would send them into captivity, they lived right for a while but soon forgot. Cruel Kings with armies came and took them into slavery, their harps rusted on the willow trees.
Every plan seemed to fail; Then God did the greatest thing he ever did. He sent His only Son. With all of these advantages offered and opportunities given, the people of God turned their back to the Lord.
A gradual progression of wickedness. With each successive messenger from the owner, the Master, the servants became more brazen and increased the level of violence inflicted on those sent. They beat the first, killed the second, and stoned the third; when another group was sent they repeated their wicked deeds.
As the response of the Master delayed in coming, the tenants became more and more confident in their arrogant treatment of Him and His agents.
An ultimate act of defiance. Even after such atrocities, the Master sent His Son. In the ultimate act of offense, the most despicable crime of murder was committed as the foolish tenants killed the Son. (John 1:11)
Concluding Prayer Reflection: Lord, it was you who first planted us on this earth. You fenced us around with the love and care of our families and friends. Their care towered over us. Under the shelter of this power we grew in safety and peace. We put out early blossoms, we filled up with leaves, and people had great hopes for us. You had great hopes for us. But now the year of our life is passing. The harvest is approaching. What have we to show? What fruit have we produced? What if, after all this care, we should be found to be without the fruits of love? What if we had nothing to offer but the sour grapes of indifference, selfishness and neglect?