Another Sunday, another parable. It seems as if recently we have heard quite a few parables from Jesus, but each one is as poignant as the last. This week we hear the Parable of the Tenants, which not only gives us insight to the Kingdom of God, but also foreshadows the passion of Jesus.
When I first read this parable earlier this week, I was struck by how perfectly it lined up with the Father’s strategy for redeeming His creation. First, the landowner creates his vineyard and protects it, providing all that any tenant could need. Then he invites tenants to work his land for him while he goes on a journey. As any reasonable landowner would do, when the time came to harvest and reap the rewards of his labor, he sent servants to the tenants to collect his share. However, the response of the tenants is unexpected. They meet the servants with hostility on multiple occasions, and end up murdering them in cold blood so that they may take all of the earnings. Was not the landowner acting justly? Finally, the Father sends his son thinking surely they will respect them and give him what is due. Tragically, the tenants treat him just the same. These acts are done out of greed, thinking they would acquire the sons’ inheritance and become the landowners themselves (as was Jewish tradition that if the landowner had no heir, the tenants would become the landowners). However, as Jesus goes on to explain, the vineyard will instead be taken away from the wicked tenants and given to new tenants, some who will give the landowner the produce at the proper times.
How does this relate to the greater story of our faith? Quite easily actually. The landowner can be thought of as God the Father, the landowners son as Jesus, the servants as the prophets sent before Jesus to prepare the way, the vineyard as the House of Israel, and the tenants as us the Father’s creation. Much like the parable, God the Father has constantly looked to His creation to collect the fruits of his labor and has been met with hostility. He sent prophets to us to prepare us and warn us for what was to come, yet they were outcast, mocked, and even murdered. Take for example John the Baptist. He spent his life peacefully preparing the way and evangelizing crowds of people, yet he was beheaded. Finally, the Father sent his one and only Son - Jesus. Surely we would listen to him, right? Well we all know how that story goes and unfortunately we treat the Son of God the same way the tenants treated the son of the landowner. It is easy for us to blame our past ancestors and think that we would never behave as the “tenants” did. Thankfully we have the choice daily on how we give back the Father His “produce.” We have the choice of if we want to honor Him in our lives, or foolishly choose the side of the wicked tenants.
Which Tenant are We?
Although this parable may seem to be written for the past, we know that it can apply to our modern day life. We may not physically walk Jesus up Calvary to the crucifixion, but we might as well based on our daily shortcomings and sins. We consistently tell Jesus we do not need him, do not trust him to be in control, and are “fine on our own.” Again, I know we may not intentionally do this, but it is important to know the true weight of our sins at times. We often go to confession out of a fear of hell, but the real reason we should go is out of humility and regret that we offended and hurt our Lord. I have often thought of my sin as the nails that were beaten into Jesus. That is an extreme image, and I do not mean to scare anyone by thinking that every time they sin they are responsible for Jesus’ death, butI do though want to emphasize the price paid for our sins and the infinite mercy that we are offered. In the story today, the tenants are to be put to death. In contrast, Jesus allows us to return to him. He does not strip us of our inheritance and he does not cast us out into the shadows. In our littleness he comes to love us more, but we must acknowledge that need. Take for example an infant - an infant child must rely on their parents far more than an adult. Likewise, when we come to accept our “infancy” in faith it truly makes Christ happy because he knows how much we need him. There was a reason we were not made perfect. If we had been there would be no need for a savior. Thankfully though, we do have a savior. Even though time and time again we may put him to death through our sins, he conquers death, redeems our wickedness, and offers us transformative love and union. The true question is what tenant will we be? If we’re honest with ourselves all of us have been the first tenants at some point. The true test is will we allow Jesus to transform our hearts and make us into the “new tenants” who produce fruit and give him his due? The offer is on the table for all of us, but we must make that choice.