Is 5:1-7, Philippians 4>6-9; Matthew 21:33-43
Jesus commands our attention saying, “hear another parable.” He spins the tale of a landowner with rebellious tenants. The more the owner seeks his due, the more vicious the tenants’ response.
When Jesus challenged the religious leaders to write the end of the story , they condemned the tenants even though they realized that they were the ones implicated. Jesus softened their sentence by telling them, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to people that will produce fruit. “
The situation was embarrassing for the leaders; the angrier they got, the more they were admitting that they understood that the evil tenants represented them and Jesus was the son. So they immediately started plotting against Jesus.
Jesus’ reason for speaking the Parable in the final weeks of his ministry is clear. Throughout his public life, Jesus, Son of God, had claimed the right to exercise His Father’s authority over His people. Instead of respecting this claim, the Scribes and Pharisees saw it as a threat to their own dominion over God’s people. They adopted a “He’s got to go “attitudeand Jesus knew they would soon make their move to dispose of Him. It was in this context, that Jesus spoke the Parable of the Tenants. In effect, He is saying to the Scribes and Pharisees,” you may think that getting rid of Me will resolve the matter in your favor. But remember, that is precisely what those wicked tenants imagined. Killing me will not result in My defeat but in your own ruin. You will never be able to successfully resist my Father’s claim to absolute dominion over His people- even if you should kill His Son! Even death has no claim over God’s people. He will never abandon them.
This parable has a history of tragic misinterpretation. It has been used as a pretext for condemning Jewish people while raising up the supposed pure race. A few days ago I stood at the Jewish Ghetto Monument in Warsaw and was overwhelmed thinking about the inhuman atrocities of the Nazis on the Polish and Jewish people. The anti-Semitism over the centuries is another example of the tragic misinterpretations. To deal with that sort of distortion of the Gospel, we should follow this rule of thumb; If one of Jesus’ parables does not call us to conversion, we haven’t understood it. Jesus used parable to shock people into conversion. Parables aren’t puzzles to be understood, but calls to action crafted to make us uncomfortable enough the change our ways.
When we read today’s parable in the light of our world situation and in the light of Pope Francis“Laudato Si “ Encyclical we find ourselves in the sandals of the tenants. Pope Francis reminds us that God has entrusted this Earth to us. Francis could have been writing a commentary on this parable when he said that our role in the world must be understood as one of stewardship. Francis quotes St. John Paul II saying: “Once the human being declares independence, and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundation of our life begins to crumble. For instead of carrying out our role as cooperators with God in the work of creation, we set ourselves up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature.
When we read Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenant as a commentary on human responsibility for our Earth and all its peoples, we find ourselves feeling less righteous and much more challenged. None of us can read Francis’ encyclical and feel vindicated. Whether as steward of the Earth or spokesperson for the world and her most vulnerable creatures, we are called to continue to produce the fruits the Creator hopes to see from us.
Francis tells us: “As Christians we are also called to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.
Being stewards of creation requires that we approach our Earth as a source of communionor hear the judgment : “it will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
Fr. Volker Futter, OSB