Gospel for Sunday, October 8: Matthew 21: 33-43
XXVII Sunday A
33“Listen to another parable: there was a man who owned land and planted a vineyard there. He surrounded it with a hedge, dug a hole for the wine press and built a tower. He rented it to some farmers and went far away. 34When the time came to harvest the fruits, he sent his servants to the farmers to collect the harvest. 35But the farmers took the servants and beat one, killed another, stoned another. 36He again sent other servants, more numerous than the first, but they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent them his son saying: “They will have respect for my son!”. 38But the farmers, seeing their son, said to each other: “This is the heir. Come on, let’s kill him and we will have his inheritance!”. 39They caught him, chased him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40So when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?” 41They replied: “He will make those wicked people die miserably and will rent the vineyard to other farmers, who will deliver the fruits to him in due time.” 42And Jesus said to them: “Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was done by the Lord, and is marvelous in our eyes? 43Therefore I say to you: the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruits”.
Mt 21: 33-43
Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).
Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.
This parable is the second of the three which in the Gospel of Matthew have the same basic theme: the acceptance or rejection of the Kingdom.
We are the Lord’s vineyard
Several features of this second parable reflect the Palestinian situation. When a vineyard is planted, a low wall is erected to protect it, a hole is dug for pressing, and if the vineyard is large, a watchtower is erected to keep thieves away.
But more important than these features are the parable’s Old Testament references. In the Old Testament the image of the vineyard or vine is recurring to designate Israel as the people of God, his property (Is 5.1-7; 27.2-6; Jer 2.21; 12.10-11; Ez 15,1-6; 19,10-14; Hos 10,1-3; Ps 80,9…): and this metaphor is also taken up by the Synoptics (Mt 20,1-16; 21,33-43 ; Luke 13.6-9).
The parable, however, seems above all to refer to Isaiah’s famous song of the vineyard (Is 5:1-7). The prophet describes the monotonous history of his people: on the one hand the love of God and on the other the continuous betrayal of the people. It is a story, the prophet concludes, that cannot continue indefinitely: the people, continuing to distance themselves from God, are heading towards their own ruin. God expected fine grapes and instead received poor quality grapes. At this point all that remains is to draw the consequences: the vineyard will fall into ruin, it will no longer be cultivated and blackthorns and brambles will grow there.
So far the song of Isaiah. Two points are clarified in the evangelical parable. The first is that the cause of the punishment does not simply consist in a generic disobedience of the people of God, but in the fact that this people has eliminated their prophets and, in the end, their leaders will even kill the Messiah, outside the vineyard, as will happen to Jesus, crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem (Heb 13.12). It is a harsh judgment on Israel and a perennial warning for Christians themselves.
The second point consists in the fact that the Kingdom will be taken from the leaders of Israel and will be given to others, it will be taken from those near and will pass to those far away. The V. 43 speaks of “èthnos”, which can generically mean “people”, “people”, but also “nation”, “people” (see 1 Pt 2.9; Ex 19.6), perhaps indicating not so much the Church but the eschatological obedient people: “laòs” is not used, so perhaps it only designates a “group” within Judaism. Let us always remember that not all of Israel rejected Christ, but only a part of him: Mary, the Apostles, the first Church in fact, like Jesus, belonged to the Jewish people.
This too is a perennial warning to Christians. God is faithful to his people, but not to the point that his plan of salvation is interrupted. If Christians refuse, his demands for truth and justice will find a way to express themselves elsewhere.
A great hope
Pope Francis, underlining how the words of final condemnation are not from the owner of the vineyard, but from the listeners (v. 41), sees great hope in this parable: “To make people understand how God the Father responds to the refusals opposed to his love and his proposal for an alliance, the Gospel passage places a question on the lips of the owner of the vineyard: “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?” (v. 40). This question emphasizes that God’s disappointment with the evil behavior of men is not the final word! Here is the great novelty of Christianity: a God who, although disappointed by our mistakes and our sins, does not fail to keep his word, does not stop and above all does not take revenge!
Brothers and sisters, God does not take revenge! God loves, he does not take revenge, he waits for us to forgive us, to embrace us. Through the “rejected stones” – and Christ is the first stone that the builders rejected -, through situations of weakness and sin, God continues to put into circulation the “new wine” of his vineyard, that is, mercy; this is the new wine from the Lord’s vineyard: mercy. There is only one impediment in the face of God’s tenacious and tender will: our arrogance and our presumption, which sometimes even becomes violence! In the face of these attitudes and where no fruit is produced, the Word of God retains all its power of rebuke and warning: “The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who produce its fruits” (v . 43).
A love proposal
The urgency of responding with good fruits to the call of the Lord, who calls us to become his vineyard, helps us to understand what is new and original in the Christian faith. It is not so much the sum of precepts and moral norms, but it is first of all a proposal of love that God, through Jesus, has made and continues to make to humanity. It is an invitation to enter this story of love, becoming a lively and open vineyard, full of fruit and hope for all. A closed vineyard can become wild and produce wild grapes. We are called to leave the vineyard to put ourselves at the service of our brothers who are not with us, to shake each other up and encourage each other, to remind ourselves that we must be the Lord’s vineyard in every environment, even the most distant and uncomfortable ones”.
Happy Mercy to all!
Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org.