Here is the son

Published on 01 Oct 2020

He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and will lease the vineyard to other tenants [1].

We are the new tenants to whom the Lord now entrusts his property.  He has expelled our wicked predecessors who would not welcome his messengers or listen to his word and who put to death his Son.  We are making a fresh start.  Hope and joy accompanies a new beginning.  This is the Lord’s doing and it is wonderful to see? [2]  The new team is being trusted to do better. For the chance to make something of the vineyard and for the confidence shown in us, we are grateful. However, we are, also, perhaps, a little daunted.  Are we up to the task?  The help of God will always be available.  However, others before us have had that assistance available to them and rejected it. Might we follow their bad example? 

As we begin, we are borne along by the love of God, by our hopes and good intentions and by our eagerness to do what we have been asked.  Could our present enthusiasm for the task entrusted to us by our creator be replaced by a murderous hostility towards him and his servants?   We love the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  There is ill-will in us towards anyone.  The work, which must be done, attracts us and excites us.  We seek to serve.  Might we change?  Could we become wicked tenants? Is it possible that we could turn into creatures who could want to kill the One sent to us.  Might we be seized by an irrational and vicious desire to usurp the divine inheritance?  Surely we, who want to be God’s good servants, would never seek to steal from him? 

If doubts about our own goodness and reliability trouble us, we can perhaps renew our confidence in grace.  All the help we need is available to us both to make the vineyard flourish and to resist the temptations to wrongdoing to which we might be heir as tenants who have lost their first focus on the One who first sent them to work.  With the Lord’s assistance, we can be saved from the bad which we could become.   Challenged, daunted, alerted to real risks, we are also strengthened and protected.  The vineyard is leased to us by a proprietor who wants us to succeed.  He watches over us every day. Visit this vine and protect it, the vine your right hand has planted [3].   We may sometimes mistakenly think of him as an absent landlord. He went abroad [4].  However he is very near to us and closely concerned with our progress.  His instructions will be communicated; his messengers will offer guidance; the Son will intervene in our life self-sacrificially. What God seeks from us, we will, with his help, render to him.

The new tenants are impressed to hear of the persistence of the Lord’s efforts to win over those who formerly had responsibility for the vineyard.  He kept trying to persuade people who had turned against him to think again.  They were rejecting him and his word. However he persevered in offering them opportunities to listen anew and to repent.   As the new lease-holders, we can scarcely be unaffected by the recital of what went wrong during the last tenancy.  Our predecessors killed the Son in order to take over the inheritance.  Could we be tempted to go astray in like manner? With the enthusiasm of those who are launching on a new beginning we are hardly thinking of such a betrayal.  However, the repentance, which is the proper sequel to wrongdoing, is surely already imaginable for us. The One who has asked us to look after his property intends to direct us in our work.  He is interested in what we are doing.  Our creator oversees what we make of ourselves. We want to listen.  It may be that he will ask us to change our way of doing things.  Our intention is to be attentive and obedient.  If repentance were the attitude which we ought to adopt, we would surely do so readily and thoroughly.

The wicked tenants’ refusal to repent raises questions.  How could they be so ungrateful?  How could they be so obtuse?   How could they give so little serious thought to the future or to the consequences of their actions?  Is there something about the freedom accorded to them which tempts them to a foolish independence?  A field of activity and a particular task have been entrusted to us, as to those who have gone before us.  Much is expected of us.  When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce [5]. We are to achieve in our life, in our soul, the fruitfulness invited by God.  We are to work with other members of a team in a shared tenancy.  Such a harvest has been hoped for from others before us.  The achievements of the saints reassure us that the divine expectations can be met.  However even in the excitement of our fresh start we acknowledge the possibility that hope’s can be misplaced and that tenancies can go to the bad.

God trusts us and invites us to trust him.  His care of us is loving and providential.  The divine  patience is almost limitless.  Almost?   He expected justice but found bloodshed, integrity but only a cry of distress [6].  The parable of the wicked tenants describes the master’s forbearance being gradually exhausted.  Could this happen again?  The coming into the world of Christ, and his passion, death and resurrection are not episodes in a failed effort at communication and the eliciting of repentance, but the inauguration of a new sort of tenancy. We new tenants could easily fall into the same old wickedness and failure to listen and repent.  However, the vineyards over which we have been given charge and the harvest that is expected o of us have been transformed under the impact of the incarnation and the mission of Jesus.  He as already entered into his inheritance. This is the heir.  Come on, let us kill him [7].  It cannot be stolen from him.   He has died and risen: we cannot kill him again, much as our sins doubtless pain him.

Christ is bringing us to the Father. He has taken charge of the harvest.  All the payment that is necessary he has paid.   Our freedom has been painfully bought.  Much like the old tenants, we have our task to perform and our responsibilities to meet. Under the leadership of Jesus, we can re-embark on our life in his vineyard with a certain peace. We need not be in continual fear that all will go wrong.  If the dangers of forgetting God and of becoming incapable of repentance remain, they are reasons for renewing our faith in Christ.   Every day we remember him.  That peace of God which is so much greater than we can understand will guard your hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus [8]. He reminds us of his Father and his mission to bring us back to him.  We are ourselves the harvest.  While we could still refuse to allow ourselves to be restored once more to our creator, we are nevertheless already in the safe hands of Jesus.

The fresh start of the new tenants is not less complete for being undertaken with a vivid awareness of the mistakes of the earlier leaseholders, now judged wicked.   We work for the Son and with him.  The fruit, which he hopes to harvest, is our goodness.  Our souls are being strengthened and our community built up.  We are provided with everything we need. He planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower [9].  Christ has made us and he calls us to walk with him on his way.  The abundance of the harvest is anticipated in the sacramental and spiritual life. God, far from sending messages which are ignored and messengers who are abused and even put to death, is in loving dialogue with us.  Jesus gives himself to us not as a nuisance to be brushed aside.  He is our Lord who loves us.  In the sacraments which sustain us, he is truly present.  We, the new tenants, joyful in our fresh start, bear in mind, with compassion, our predecessors.  The Son has been sent to us too. He stands beside us, reminding, calling to order and loving.  We see his goodness and hear his high hopes for us.  We are repentant at his command. We obey also the Lord’s summons to trust and to joy.  The abundant gifts of God are at our disposal. The harvest demanded is our good use of what has been lavished upon us.  The kingdom of God will…be given to a people who will produce its fruit [10]. The happiness to be conferred is our life with God forever. It is already anticipated in our present joyful service of our brothers and sisters.  With them, we are the new tenants, preparing to welcome the Son, who will return.

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]              Matthew 21.41

[2]              Matthew 21.42 alluding to Psalm (118) 119.22

[3]              Psalm (80) 79.14-15

[4]              Matthew 21.33

[5]              Matthew 21.34

[6]              Isaiah 5.7

[7]              Matthew 21.38

[8]              Philippians 4.7

[9]              Matthew 21.33

[10]            Matthew 21.43