Matthew 21:33-43, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
What I find very disturbing in today’s parable is that the landowner wasn’t even asking for his land back. He just wanted his share of the harvest from a vineyard that he himself planted and grew. So, the truth of the matter is, he didn’t have to be so forbearing. He was the landowner! At the first sign of insolence, he could have evicted the tenants for all their ungratefulness. And when they killed his son, he could have punished them measure for measure, and had them slaughtered, Game of Thrones style, and taken back his land easily. But I guess that’s the point of the parable. The incredible goodness of the landowner served only to stress the monstrosity of the tenants he put his faith in. That he allowed the tenants to work and care for and harvest from his land was not their right. It was a privilege generously bestowed. The tenants were not entitled to anything. Everything was gift. But instead of being transformed by their giftedness, they became murderous.
My sisters and brothers, I have no pretensions of being a prophet or anything like that. I’m just a teacher and a priest. But I’d be dishonest to you, to myself, and to God if I pass off this opportunity to tell you what I really feel like saying, as occasioned by this parable. Because I see that it’s unmistakable: this parable Jesus told 300+ years ago, it’s chillingly true and alive today.
Our vineyard, we dearly call Pilipinas, this nation, this people—this is God’s vineyard. God was the one who planted it. He has fed it and endowed it. He has filled it with resources out of which all may be and must be nourished. God entrusted this vineyard, his vineyard, to tenants. By the very word itself, tenants are not owners. They are renters. They are privileged borrowers. And according to the contract, tenants are to guarantee that they would care for the landowner’s vineyard, with everything and everybody in it—for everyone’s benefit, including theirs.
What have the tenants done, dear sisters and brothers? How have they behaved? Do they still act like tenants, or do they give the impression that the vineyard is now theirs, and that it’s the owner who owes them, instead of the other way around? Or that everyone in the land owes them, instead of the other way around. To what powers have they entitled themselves? Do they have those powers as a right, or have they forgotten that they are a privilege? Whom do they actually serve now? Because it’s long been pretty clear that the values they press upon us are in no way compatible with the values our landowner has committed all of us to uphold. But darkest and most sinister of all, why have they killed the messengers? Maybe it’s my crazy Jesuit head but I’ve always believed the drug addicts in our midst, troubled and troublesome as they are, they’re really delivering a message about the real condition of the vineyard—that poverty drives addiction, so whatever drives poverty is the devil that needs to be decisively slain. The statistics prove it loudly and clearly. Poverty and what drives it is the message. The drug addicts, its messengers. But the tenants refuse the message all the time, because otherwise, they’ll have to give up the land, and whatever else they’ve profited from it. Get rid of the message. Kill the messengers. Like foolish kings in a classic farce, the tenants go on killing the messengers.
It would have been more satisfying for us to read that the landowner in the parable really gave the wicked tenants exactly what they deserved, measure for measure. But that’s not the kind of God our God is. He will not give us the satisfaction of dealing with violence by violence. He doesn’t kill, period. He’s not a murderer. Because never was there a time in the whole of human history when killing solved unconditionally and successfully the problems of life. And God knows that.