We are all tenants
In biblical parlance, Israel is often compared to a vineyard, which requires a lot of planning and foresight, care and protection from the owner, Jesus using the vineyard image in the first reading (Isaiah 5:1-7) tells the story of a landowner who leases his vineyard to tenants, and goes on a journey. At harvest time, when he sends servants to obtain his produce, the tenants maltreat and even kill his servants. The landowner finally sends his son. The evil tenants kill the son, hoping thereby to acquire his inheritance.
This parable was directed as a motif of judgement against the Israelites, and the idea of transference of the blessings from the Israelites to other people who would bear fruits. No one doubts the fact that the Israelites were the chosen race who made covenant with God on Mount Sinai. God had freed them from slavery and made them into a powerful and dignified nation. He sent judges, kings ad prophets but they too often flirted with other false gods. They persecuted the judges and the prophets: Jeremiah was beaten and persecuted (Jer 20:2). Prophet Zachariah was stoned to death by the command of king Joash (2 Chro 24:20-22) when he prophesied against the people for their infidelity etc. This continued to the time of Jesus, God’s son : “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Despite this love of God for us, Jesus his only son was killed. As a penalty therefore, these blessings and favours meant for the Israelites will be transferred to Gentiles who would accept Jesus as their messiah.
Jesus is indeed addressing each of us as tenants of God’s vineyard today. Through our sins we have rejected him and the prophets before him back upon ourselves. We have neglected justice, we have been partial, we have not borne lasting fruits. We also act with violence against our fellow human beings, sons and daughters of God. As faithful tenants, we must care deeply about justice, will love to show mercy, and will walk in humility and submission to God (Micah 6:6-8). As faithful tenants we must be loving, joyful, peacemakers, peace-filled person, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled (Galatians 5:21-22.). As faithful servants we must take care of the flock God has handed to us. This can be our children, our family, our society and especially our Church.
Jesus refers to himself as the cornerstone that the builders had rejected in one final insult to Israel’s leaders. When reading this parable, we might not see ourselves as among those who killed messengers from God. We have stiffened the salary of our workers and have “murdered” by forcing them into silence, which is murder to one’s ministry. In our social gatherings and in church how often have we, the leaders killed good programs in the name of finance? How often have we Christians “murdered” men of God and our church leaders just because they have acted as the mirrors of the society?
There is urgency for us to act after reading the beautiful passages today. We must not hesitate; we must repent, ask for God’s forgiveness and pray that our generous Landlord will grant us mercy. We have received much from God and we must open our hearts to the prophetic voice of Jesus and become a people who produce abundant good fruit in accord with God’s will. This parable can also have ecological overtones: we are bound to manage all resources God provides His greater glory and the betterment of His creation. We are all tenants in this mother earth.
Fr. Jude Thaddeus Langeh, cmf
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