Matthew 21:33-43, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In his monologue at a Saturday Night Live (SNL) episode, comedian Aziz Ansari warns against stereotyping the people who had voted for Trump–except for that group of people who, as soon as Trump won, told themselves: “Hey, we don’t have to pretend like we’re not racist anymore! Whoo!”
“If you’re one of these people, please go back to pretending,” the comedian said. “You’ve got to go back to pretending. I’m so sorry we never thanked you for your service. We never realized how much effort you were putting into the pretending. But you gotta go back to pretending.”
I laughed out loud watching that monologue, but it reminded me of that other older joke about the guy who had a knife stuck inside him, so a friend asked him, “Does it hurt?” And he responded: “Only when I laugh.”
I say that because even as we laugh, we know it hurts. The truthhurts.
Which brings me to our Lord’s parable today. I find it strange that this parable actually gives me hope. This hasn’t always been the case. There was a time in my life when this parable used to trouble me, leaving me with two disturbing questions. The first question has to do with the wickedness of the ungrateful tenants, who, not content with not paying the rent, throw out and kill the landlord’s slaves, and even end up murdering the landlord’s son!
“Can people really be so evil?” It was hard to conceive how people could resort to such violence. But that was then; this is now: Now having remained quite updated with current events, thanks to my social media, I get it. Greed and power have a way of numbing us and repressing our consciences. I’ve heard too many blatant lies delivered with the straightest and the most shameless of faces. I’ve read about too many murders committed with barely an iota of regret.
It probably starts out as a sense of self-entitlement, when what ought to be appreciated as gift is appropriated as a right. Then people begin to convince themselves that they can get away with lying and all sorts of other things, and before they know it, they’ve gone down that slippery slope of utilitarianism and moral relativism.
The second disturbing question the parable raises is: “How can the landlord seem so merciless–almost ruthless–in destroying his enemies?” Of course, it’s pretty clear that the punishment is so very well-deserved, but it just gets a little tougher to accept when we recall that the landlord also represents God. How can God Who is all-good, Who is boundless in His mercy, punish sinners so mercilessly? God’s wrath, even when issued out of justice, can be a very frightening thing.
Reading this parable this morning, I am left with the same two questions. But what is surprising is that this time is that these same questions leave me far from troubled. They leave me strangely hopeful. And I think that’s telling.
“Can people be so evil?” Yes, I’m afraid I’ve been seeing a lot of that. It has ceased to be a question.
“Can God be so severe in destroying evil?” Yes, now I get that, too. And He should destroy what’s evil. And I wait and pray for it.
My takeaway from this parable today is: Do not lose hope. There is an expiry date to evil.