Sunday, October 8, 2023
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
Gospel Mt 21:33-43
Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people:
"Hear another parable.
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard,
put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.
Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
When vintage time drew near,
he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce.
But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat,
another they killed, and a third they stoned.
Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones,
but they treated them in the same way.
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking,
'They will respect my son.'
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another,
'This is the heir.
Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.'
They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?"
They answered him,
"He will put those wretched men to a wretched death
and lease his vineyard to other tenants
who will give him the produce at the proper times."
Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?
Therefore, I say to you,
the kingdom of God will be taken away from you
and given to a people that will produce its fruit."
Pay Your Rent!
Upon Reflection: There is an awful lot of violence on television, in the movies and in music these days (actually, this has been the case for the last 30 years). Most of us would agree that this is true. As concerned citizens, we might react against such violence in our story telling, and perhaps we should. But as Christians, it is important to remember that Jesus told some pretty violent stories himself. Just look at today's Gospel for example.
In the parable that Jesus tells, more than just a few people are beaten, and at least three people are murdered, one being stoned to death. I don't know why we tend to overlook some of the graphic stuff that Jesus puts in his stories. Maybe it's because we are so used to violence in our stories today that we are numb to its effects, even if the story comes from Jesus. Or maybe we are so entranced by Jesus' divinity that we just don't see how much of a "shock -jock" he really was in his humanity.
Whatever the case, one thing is clear: Jesus' parables are not G-rated. They are not stories for children. His stories are meant for mature audiences who are able to grasp the seriousness of the message.
In today's Gospel, his audience is the chief priests and the elders of the people. He tells them a story about servants and a son of a landowner being beaten and killed by tenants who want to forcefully take what does not belong to them.
Try to imagine being one of those chief priests or elders hearing this graphic story and realizing that Jesus is talking about you. He is saying that as a religious leader, you are part of a system that claims to have a monopoly on God. What you hold as sacred tradition is in fact, according to Jesus, an attempt to forcefully and brutally claim ownership, power and control over what does not belong to you. You cannot own God, and you certainly cannot create any kind of religious ritual or purity code that will dispense God out to those who play the game right. He says history has shown that anyone who tries to point this out to you is automatically shunned and sometimes even killed.
One might expect you as a chief priest or elder to be somewhat defensive of such accusations. But indeed, what Jesus points out was true of the religious establishment of his day. They shunned and killed the prophets as they would soon shun and kill him as well.
Jesus' parable fell on deaf ears that day, but what of our ears today? Can we as a Church admit that we do not own God? Can we confess that God is just as readily available outside of our walls as God is inside? Will we silence and shun and kill any voices within our tradition that point these kinds of things out or will we admit that no matter through whom, what or how God chooses to reveal Godself, it does not fall under our control?
Are we mature enough to admit that we are just stewards?