In today’s Gospel, Jesus once again speaks to the priests and elders with a parable. In this parable, the landowner leases his vineyard to tenants and sends his servants to collect the portion of the harvest that the tenants owe to him. Eventually even killing his son. After telling the parable, Jesus questions the chief priests and elders about what the landowner will do to the wicked tenants. They all agree that the landowner will kill the wicked tenants and give the land to new tenants who will pay the rent. In telling the parable, Jesus is clearly drawing upon Isaiah 5:1-7, which is today’s first reading and one that the priests and elders would have known well. The Kingdom of God will be taken from the unbelieving and given to the faithful. The chief priests and elders have condemned themselves with their answer to Jesus’ question.
We need to examine today’s story in the full context of the Gospel, to view it against the backdrop of all we know of God’s action in Christ. As Christians, we always start with the fact that God initiates the relationship with us – not we with God. God calls us to be in unity with him and all people. God’s reaching out to us is best understood as his giving us everything we have – with no strings attached and without our deserving it, without our having done anything to gain it. As he proved on the cross, we are worth dying for.
We don’t have to earn God’s love; it is given freely. The wicked tenants received all they needed from the owner, but they refused to accept his graciousness and turned their backs on him, his servants, and even his son. They, by their actions and inactions, cast themselves out of the vineyard, no less than Adam and Eve’s disobedience resulted in their loss of the benefits of the Garden of Eden. The miserable death we might experience can only result from our failure to accept the gifts of God. It can only result from our selfishly acting as if the vineyard is all ours – or should be all ours and no one else’s, let alone God’s.
It is not so much that God’s patience with us might eventually run out, causing us to be put to a miserable death. It is more like our time runs out only because we wait too long to catch on to what God wants for us, and then we by our actions or inactions cast ourselves out of God’s vineyard, producing a self-inflicted kind of misery that we alone can create.
Today’s Gospel story, of course, provides for us a warning about what we can miss out on if we act like the wicked servants. It reminds us of the great theme of stewardship that is so central to the life of the church and to the healthful focus of individual Christians. When we sing the familiar words, “Praise God from who all blessings flow,” we need to remember the actions that they imply – that we need to “walk the talk” by remembering that what we have is not ours to own, but is on loan from God.
We need to remember that God’s way of grace and love is encouraging us to respond to our good fortune of living in his vineyard by reflecting that love in our actions toward others.
That as we care for, as we exercise stewardship over God’s creation – especially our fellow human beings – we do so as a reflection of God’s love. That love is poured out to us in such measure that it overflows from us, and through us can overflow onto all creation. An overflow that allows us to maintain creation and preserve it and protect it from harm. An overflow that impels us to love others and share with them the Good News of God in Christ – a truth they might miss if we ignore our mission and neglect that which so graciously enriches us.
If, in reflecting on today’s Gospel story, we concentrate on God’s setting us up on a vineyard, giving us all we have, we can recognize that this is his way of encouraging us to be good and faithful servants – good and loving workers in the world he has left to our care – good and faithful followers of his son, Jesus.
Our focus needs to be as St Paul says in the Epistle to “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen”. Keep being an authentic Christian who cares about people the way Jesus did… and act the same way!