Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Is 5:1-7, Ps 80:9, 12, 13-14, 15-16, 19-20, Phil 4:6-9, Mt 21:33-43
In today’s readings, we hear a great deal about vineyards. The Prophet Isaiah explains how the friend has cared for his vineyard, and we’re made to understand that this is how God the Father cared for His people Israel. He prepared everything for them, and yet they brought forth only the bitter fruit of sin. The Psalm makes this reference clear by telling us that “the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel,” and begs God to return to His people and to care for them. Saint Paul begs us to entreat the Lord and His goodness, and to bear good fruit worthy of the Lord’s vineyard. The culmination of all this preparation is to be found in today’s Gospel, where Christ presents the chief priests and the elders, and each one of us, with the Parable of the Tenants.
Although we’ve probably heard the parable of the tenants before, it helps to examine, first, what Jesus’ listeners would have understood, and, second, what Jesus is telling us about God the Father.
Jesus’ listeners would have automatically understood many things about the parable that aren’t immediately obvious to us. We can point out three: first, it was common practice for landowners to rent out their lands and then simply leave the tenants to maintain them. Second, it would have been the responsibility of the tenants, and not to the owner, to build and prepare the land for the vines. In the parable, the owner was quite generous, because he took care of those things himself. Third, the landowner needed to receive part of the harvest to retain his legal ownership of the land. A tenant who refuses to give part of the harvest wasn’t simply being rude or belligerent; rather, he was claiming the land for himself.
This is the background of the parable, and it is in this context that Christ reveals three characteristics of His Heavenly Father who is the landowner: the Father is generous, He’s trusting, and He’s patient: generosity, trust, and patience.
First, the Father is generous. Notice that Matthew tells us four specific things that the owner of the vineyard did: he planted it, put a hedge around, dug the winepress, and built the tower. What’s important to recall is that these things should’ve been done by the tenants. They were all the responsibilities of the ones who came to lease the vineyard. Usually the owner just gave them the plot of land, and made them clear it, plant the vine, and build everything else. However, this owner took care of everything. This means that the tenants didn’t have to spend time preparing the vineyard so that it would bear fruit; usually they would have to wait at least a year to begin harvesting the grapes and making wine. Here, however, everything that they needed was in place, and all they had to do was take advantage of it and use it. The tower is a nice detail; not only was it a lookout point for security, but also the place where the tenants could rest and sleep. All the tenants had to do was use and maintain what they had been given, gifts that went far beyond the obligation of the landowner to provide.
Secondly, the Father is trusting. He doesn’t send people to spy on the tenants, or ask for progress reports; it’s only at “vintage time,” when everything should have been ready, that He sends someone to obtain what is rightfully his. In a sense, He places Himself at the mercy of the tenants. They do what they want, and the owner trusts that it’s also what he wants. After all, it only makes sense: the tenants have benefited from a very generous landowner, and all they need to do is give back what the owner has asked for, and they will be happy and provided for.
Lastly, the Father is patient. Time and again the owner sends his servants, only to have them be mistreated. Yet, the owner never ceases trying to reach out to them until they reject His Son. Here they openly say what they’ve wanted all along: they want the land for themselves, to do whatever it is they want with what they’ve been given, and that’s that. This is the last straw, and we can’t accuse the owner of being unjust. After all, he had done everything for those tenants, and had taken care of them. Time and time again, though, they betrayed that generosity, that trust, and that patience. All those things the landowner put up with; at the end, though, they reject His Son, and after that, there’s nothing more to do than to punish them severely, a punishment that the landowner tried time and time again to avoid, but that was the just wages of their actions.
The scene from today’s Gospel might seem a little dramatic for our daily lives, but really it contains several important truths that should affect our daily living. In fact, we can reflect on each of those characteristics of God the Father and how they are present in the way I live.
First, God is generous: He gives us absolutely everything that we need to become saints. All we must do is use it well. This isn’t limited just to nice things, like the graces I’ve received, the talents I have, and so on. It also means things that I might not like, like annoying people who make us practice patience and charity, or temptations that make us firm in our resolve to serve God alone, or suffering that don’t seem to make much sense. All these are gifts of God’s generosity, the hammer blows that form us into saints, if we use them well. Perhaps the tenants thought that, because the landowner had gone away, he didn’t care about them. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Everything they had should have been a daily reminder of his love and care for them. The same is true in our lives; everything that comes our way is part of God’s providence, an expression of His love for us. Indeed, it is perhaps the most concrete expression of His love that we can experience.
Second, God is trusting: He gives us our freedom, and, in a sense, He submits Himself to our decisions. The fact that God allows us to work with Him, to be His helpers, even to the point of being “co-creators” with Him in bringing children into the world, be that in the physical sense of being a parent, or in the spiritual sense of bringing children up for God, that fact that God even allows such a possibility shows that He trusts us, and wants us to cooperate with Him.
Thirdly, God is patient: He is a father who is long-suffering with His rebellious children, and He wishes us to be patient with them, too—to try to help Him bring them to an area of love. This point is brought out in the story told of Abraham in the desert: one night a stranger is said to have approached his tent and implored his hospitality. Abraham gave him the best of food, surrendered his own bed, waited on him . . . but the stranger complained and upbraided and found fault. Abraham was about to turn him out, in anger at his ingratitude, when God spoke to him: ‘Abraham,’ he said, ‘I have put up with that man for forty years. Can’t you stand him for one night?’ God is far more patient than we are, and has been patient with us. He is our example and model.
Today, we can ask ourselves how well we make use of the things God permits to come our way. If God trusts Himself to us, do we entrust ourselves to Him? Are we patient as we strive to reach heaven? Through the intercession of Mary, Queen of All Saints and Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, let us ask for the grace to be generous, trusting, and patient as we work to build up the Kingdom of God in this world.
 Cf. Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan, Parables of the Kingdom: Jesus and the Use of Parables in the Synoptic Tradition (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007), 72.
 Cf. C. H. Dodds, Parables of the Kingdom, 93