The Parable of the Tenants
33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:“‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;the Lord has done this,and it is marvelous in our eyes’?43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
By Fr Aldo, sx
At the end of this parable Jesus asks for the participation of his listeners: “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” And they answer with conviction: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death…” This is a typical answer of those who are accustomed with revenge and violence, but Jesus does not affirm this way of thinking. Instead Jesus presents the way of God in cases like that, without resorting to aggression and destruction. God neither react to evil deeds with violence nor does he kill or destroy the evil doers, even though God also does not erase the evil done because the scars must remain. But God does transform all these things into instruments for salvation.
The verses 39.42-43 constitute the central part of the parable and clearly refer to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The tenants took the son and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. This is precisely what the leaders of Israel did to Jesus; they judged him unworthy of belonging to their people, excluded him and sent him out of the city, as they would do with lepers and unclean people – a stone throne out. But God, resurrected Jesus, glorified him and made him Lord and the cornerstone of a new building.
The master’s final intervention in the parable is to give the vineyard to other tenants. The privilege of being the People of God is now passed on to the pagans. They – Jesus assures – will produce fruits. With this, Matthew could explain why his community was composed more by pagans than by Jews. But what does this parable teach us? Certainly its main purpose is not to point out to the infidelity of the Jews or to encourage us to despise our Jewish brethren.
This parable reminds Christians of all times of the risk we run of repeating the same mistakes of the tenants or of the Jewish spiritual leaders of Jesus’ time. We all must consider ourselves workers of the vineyard and be aware that fruits will be expected from us also and if we don’t produce any, the kingdom will be taken away from us.
Now let us answer with honesty: What are the fruits produced by our Christian communities? Do they produce justice, loving care, peace and harmony? Do they produce a better living for all or do they just produce solemn liturgies with words and gestures disconnected from real life? Are not the communities often like a sterile vineyard unable to see and answer to the signs of the times? Don’t we too sometimes forget that we are just workers of the vineyard and act as if we were the owners? What to think about those leaders of ours who make decisions alone based on whatever crosses through their minds, without even bothering to listen to the only legitimate owner of everything?But the point here is that the turning over of the vineyard to other tenants is by no means a gesture of vengeance by a disappointed Master. It is a work of salvation that brings benefits to all. The rejection of Jesus became a blessing to all because God transforms failure into success and knows how to extract good and marvelous things even from our human sinfulness.