Here in Matthew 21:33-43 Jesus summarizes the history of salvation, the history of Gods efforts to rule the human heart. He starts by going back long before he was born of Mary (more than 1500 years before the incarnation). Remarkably in a single parable Jesus summarizes the whole Old Testament and his own life too!
There was a man, a landowner, (the landowner is God – this is a description Jesus loves to use) who planted a vineyard. The vineyard is the faith of the Jewish people, the Jewish religion. He fenced it round (it’s got clear boundaries and what’s inside belongs to God). He digs a wine-press in it and built a tower (it’s ready to produce a harvest, it’s all set-up). Finally he leased it to tenants (the Jewish people and their leaders) and then went abroad (God is in heaven!) But in the vineyard everything is ready to produce new wine. It’s easy to apply the same parable to the Church.
When vintage time draws near God sends some servants to the tenants to collect his produce. These are the great figures that we read about in the Old Testament but when they arrive (when each is born into history) there’s not much produce to collect – they find the people’s religion hasn’t been producing much! Worse still, the tenants are demanding to do as they please with the vineyard, with what doesn’t belong to them!
This happens repeatedly over many generations until finally the vineyard owner (God) sends his own son – the son being Jesus Christ.
But when the tenants see the son, what do they think? They’re moving even further from God, they think; if we can get rid of the Son then we can take over his inheritance. Then we’ll be free to do as we please with the vineyard… we can redefine everything! Isn’t this the struggle that we’re seeing every night on our TV and radio talk shows? Isn’t this really the cry of secularism?
There are some things I’d like you to note.
The human condition is probably best understood as a tenancy, a stewardship. Everything we have is entrusted to us, even life itself. Life truly belongs to God and is entrusted to us only as tenants that we might deliver his produce to him at harvest time. This changes everything.
It means that life is not ours to do with as we please. From this starting point we can begin to glimpse the spiritual foundation of the Church’s moral law, particularly the more contentious teachings. Abortion is morally wrong because life is not ours to do with as we please. So too Euthanasia, likewise human sexuality is not ours to do with as we please. Consider reviewing Humanae Vitae from this starting point, so too the redefinition of marriage. In fact, this starting point changes everything.
Here too we stumble across the Christian understanding of life; my life is not about what I get out of it, it’s about what God gets out of it! Here all the spiritual riches of heaven are hidden.
Finally the question is asked what’ll God eventually do with the tenants? “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end…” and take the vineyard from them and give it to a people who will produce its fruit, comes the reply.
Now here’s a whole new way to interpret life in the Church. Perhaps in our ignorant spiritual bliss we fail to see that it’s not so much that people are leaving the Church or that the Church is dying but that God is taking the kingdom from us and giving it to a people who will produce its fruit. For every crisis in the Church (and perhaps in the State too) is in fact the failure to produce the appropriate fruit in due season.
Besides, what would you do with a vineyard that continually fails to produce a harvest?