Spirituality of the Readings
The Real Story
This Sunday we hear two stories about a vineyard. Let’s compare them.*
The First Reading tells about “a friend” who carefully built a vineyard, clearing stones, building a watchtower, planting the choicest vines. He even “hewed out a wine press.”
But his vineyard yielded bad grapes.
In vivid language, God tells the chief priests and elders that they themselves are this vineyard and that he is going to destroy them and trample them down because they would not let God's love grow up among them!
Then in the Gospel Jesus takes the same tale and embroiders it. In just one sentence he handles the part about planting a vineyard, digging the wine press, building the tower.
But then he goes further. He has the owner rent his rich vineyard to tenants (as was the custom). The he trusts his tenants to raise choice grapes. When in due season he sends servants to collect the yield—which must have been great because the tenants dishonestly want to keep everything, including the vineyard—they beat or stoned or even killed his servants!
In a surprising twist to the tale, seemingly an implausible one, Jesus says that the owner kindly decides to send his own son. He thinks that the tenants will surely respect his beloved offspring. Would you have done this? Wouldn't you have said, “I will keep my family away from these criminals”? I surely would have.
Not this owner. He sent his beloved son directly into the trap. The tenants kill him.
The owner has spent all his resources, even his own son, with no response. So at last he ejects the tenants and gives care of his vineyard to people who will listen.
Our First Reading tells the dishonest vineyard that God will
make it a ruin:
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
but will be overgrown with thorns and briers.
The details of these two parables are different, aren’t they? But aren’t they the same story, about God punishing those who fail to produce?
Does God punish those who fail to produce?
Be careful, because the stories do not turn out to be identical at all. As Jesus puts it, have you never read in the scriptures that,
the stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes.**
This is not a generic condemnation of disobedient servants. The person who is telling this parable is himself the very “stone that the builders rejected”! Our repeated failure to accept God’s love has resulted now in a final invitation, one concerning the teller of the tale, God’s own child.
Many do not see it this way, as we know. Our Jewish sisters and brothers hope for Christians to stop blaming them for the death of the messiah. We respect that, at least I hope and plead that we do. And of course, the secular world of our day simply washes all belief away in favor of cell phones and digital phones and the world’s buying power. And so on.
Yet we continue to tell Jesus’ story of his love and his suffering, and of God’s love brought to fulfillment in his life. We will hear it Sunday in a parable.
Be sure to listen.
* Stories: our brains love stories because they tell about the “before-and-after,” which are built right into our lives, so we recognize them. They carry also suspense, action, relationship and intercommunication—not to mention emotion and disappointment and elation, and so on. These elements resemble our daily experience more than any other device we have in the language.
**It is thought that Jesus is referring to Isaiah 5, or in other words, our First Reading.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University