NOTE ON THE USE OF THIS COMMENTARY
Whenever a specific window is used it will be printed in italics and underlined.
When we ponder the Scriptures prayerfully we no longer feel alone. We have the unshakeable certainty that someone is speaking to us, someone in seeking us and someone is standing by our side, and we are given new strength and encouragement through the presence of the Risen Lord.
As you wrestle with today’s reading you will soon realise the need to concentrate on just one part of the text. There is just too much here to handle during one time of reading, reflection and responding (prayer). Take only part each day for your prayer.
PRAYER before praying Scripture.
FATHER, you gave St Jerome and St Paula delight in his study of Holy Scripture. May we find in your word the flood of salvation and the fountain of life that you have promised, through Christ Our Lord.
Let us now read this Sunday’s Good News
TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME.
YEAR 1; Matthew 21: 33 – 43
33 “Here is another parable.”
The word “parable” means “comparison.” Parables were told to reveal, not to hide the truth. We can see a perfect example of the form and function of a parable in 2 Sam 12: 1 – 4. Take a moment to read it.
At first glance the parable appears to be simply a short fictional story. A parable is told to personally criticise the person to whom the parable is told, to raise that person’s consciouness to a new level of understanding, to call that person to conversion and reform.1
In order to understand the parable we must be aware of the context in which it is told. This parable is told by Nathan, the prophet, to David who had committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for the murder of her husband. David gets involved in the story and condemns the perpetrator. At this point Nathan informs him that he is the guilty party.
A parable is a comparison in that it compares someone in the story to someone listening to the story.
As we study and reflect on today’s gospel please keep this understanding of parable in mind.
The audience: The chief priests and the Pharisees. 21: 23; 21: 45
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. 34When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. 35But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. 36Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. 37Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ 39They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
The response to the parable.
Jesus puts this question to the scribes and the Pharisees,
“40What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” 41They 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.”
This follows the pattern of the story from 2 Sam 12: 1 – 4. The persons accused in the parable become the Judge and condemn their own behaviour. That they realised that they were the guilty parties is indicated in, “45When the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parable they knew he was speaking about them.”
The leaders are being criticised for not carrying out God’s will in caring for the community; their unfaithfulness to the covenant; using their gifts for their one advantage rather than in service of their Lord.2
They have hijacked God himself. At the beginning of the parable Jesus describes his / a caring and unconditionally loving God. “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.”
In contrast their “God” is vengeful and cruel. “41They answered him, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death…” Not only that, their God demands a return on his investment in people. There is no unconditional love. “.. and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.”
The parable describes how they conduct themselves in the service of the people of the community. Their response is to suggest a course of action consistent with their behaviour, as condemned, in the story.
It is important to note that nowhere is there any mention of condemnation by Jesus. At first glance, “44The one who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls”, presents a difficulty. However it seems that this is a gloss (a later insertion by a copyist) and is omitted from texts.3
His reply to the parable comes in three parts.
1.42Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the scriptures?”
How could anybody who has read the Hebrew Scriptures ever think that the “God” described by these authorities in anyway resembles God revealed in Scripture??!! The fundamental characteristics of God are “hesed and emet”, loyalty and loving kindness.
Handle – Cross-reference
2 He continues, quoting from Ps 118: 22 – 23. To best understand the significance of this quotation we need to the whole psalm.
1Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good, his love is everlasting! A song of thanksgiving
2Let the house of Israel say it, “His love is ever lasting!” to our God.
3Let the House of Aaron say it, “His love is everlasting!” Note the repetition.
4Let those who fear Yahweh say it, “His love is everlasting!”
God will overcome my weaknesses; make good my shortcomings.
5 Hard-pressed, I invoked Yahweh, he heard and came to my relief.
6With Yahweh on my side, I fear nothing: what can man do to me?
7With Yahweh on my side, best help of all, I can triumph over my enemies.
16Yahweh’s right hand is winning.
God is at work transforming me. Good is triumphing
19Open the gates of virtue to me, I will come in and give thanks to Yahweh.
21 I thank you for having heard me, you have been my saviour.
God has worked wonders in me. He has done what I thought impossible.
Good is triumphing in my life.
22It was the stone rejected by the builders that proved to be the keystone;
3this is Yahweh’s doing and it is wonderful to see.
What is remarkable here is that instead of retribution Jesus sees God putting things right. In spite of the way in which we have frustrated God’s plan Jesus sees him ensuring that good results from the wrong that we do. It is only a generous, understanding and an almighty God that could make this possible..
28You are my God, I give you thanks, I extol you, my God;
I give you thanks for having heard me, you have been my saviour. Good is triumphing
29Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good, his love is everlasting. Good is triumphing
3 43Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.
Jesus takes a moment to reflect on all that has happened. Once again, there is no condemnation, just a sense of deep disappointment. As I hear this verse read I hear Jesus saying, “Mike, how could you let me down? How could you have failed me? Now I will have to ask somebody else to do the “work” I had hoped you would do.”
Can you hear the regret in Jesus’ voice. Within yourself are there not feelings of shame, embarrassment, regret, sadness at letting down a God who has been so good to you.
Lord, we praise and bless you for your gifts to us:
country, homes, families, friends, communities and talents. We thank you for the privilege of being tenants.
We know that if we fail you, you may have to say, “Joe, you have let me down, I will have to ask somebody else to perform your task in the kingdom … to bear fruit and glorify me.” 4 Even if this should happen you will never condemn but continue the work of transformation in me.
NOTE: It is very common for people to turn a parable into an allegory. Many writers have seen God as the land owner, the servants as the prophets, the son as Jesus, the tenants as the people or leaders of Israel. This is quite acceptable but it moves away from the original intent of the parable into the realm of interpretation, hence there are many allegorical interpretations of this and other parables.
- Ralph, M. N.; “And God said what?”; p 149 ..
- Fallon, M; The Gospel according to Saint Mark; p 266
- Jerusalem Bible; p 51
- John 15: 8