|The Wicked Tenants by James B. Janknegt|
33 “Hear another parable. There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; 35 and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. 37 Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The very stone which the builders rejected
has become the head of the corner;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.
The Second Vatican Council teaches that if we are to derive the true meaning from the sacred texts, attention must be devoted “not only to their content but to the unity of the whole of Scripture, the living tradition of the entire Church, and the analogy of faith. […] Everything to do with the interpretation of Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgment of the Church, which exercises the divinely conferred communion and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God” (Dei Verbum, 12).
St. John Paul II, when he promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church, explained that the Catechism “is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium.” He went on to “declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion” (Fidei Depositum).
Cited in the Catechism:
Passages from this Gospel reading are cited in the Catechism, paragraphs 787, 1083 and 2603.
Parable of the wicked tenants
21:33–46. This very important parable completes the previous one. The parable of the two sons simply identifies the indocility of Israel; that of the wicked tenants focusses on the punishment to come.
Our Lord compares Israel to a choice vineyard, specially fenced, with a watchtower, where a keeper is on the look-out to protect it from thieves and foxes. God has spared no effort to cultivate and embellish his vineyard. The vineyard is in the charge of tenant farmers; the householder is God, and the vineyard, Israel (Is 5:3–5; Jer 2:21; Joel 1:7).
The tenants to whom God has given the care of his people are the priests, scribes and elders. The owner’s absence makes it clear that God really did entrust Israel to its leaders; hence their responsibility and the account he demands of them.
The owner used to send his servants from time to time to collect the fruit; this was the mission of the prophets. The second despatch of servants to claim what is owing to the owner—who meet the same fate as the first—refers to the way God’s prophets were ill-treated by the kings and priests of Israel (Mt 23:37; Acts 7:42; Heb 11:36–38). Finally he sent his Son to them, thinking that they would have more respect for him; here we can see the difference between Jesus and the prophets, who were servants, not “the Son”: the parable indicates singular, transcendental sonship, expressing the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The malicious purpose of the tenants in murdering the son and heir to keep the inheritance for themselves is the madness of the leaders in expecting to become undisputed masters of Israel by putting Christ to death (Mt 12:14; 26:4). Their ambition blinds them to the punishment that awaits them. Then “they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him”: a reference to Christ’s crucifixion, which took place outside the walls of Jerusalem.
Jesus prophesies the punishment God will inflict on the evildoers: he will put them to death and rent the vineyard to others. This is a very significant prophecy. St Peter later repeats it to the Sanhedrin: “this is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner” (Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:4). The stone is Jesus of Nazareth, but the architects of Israel, who build up and rule the people, have chosen not to use it in the building. Because of their unfaithfulness the Kingdom of God will be turned over to another people, the Gentiles, who will give God the fruit he expects his vineyard to yield (cf. Mt 3:8–10; Gal 6:16).
For the building to be well built, it needs to rest on this stone. Woe to him who trips over it! (cf. Mt 12:30; Lk 2:34), as first Jews and later the enemies of Christ and his Church will discover through bitter experience (cf. Is 8:14–15).
Christians in all ages should see this parable as exhorting them to build faithfully upon Christ and make sure they do not fall into the sin of this Jewish generation. We should also be filled with hope and a sense of security; for, although the building—the Church—at some times seems to be breaking up, its sound construction, with Christ as its cornerstone, is assured.
Source: The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries. Biblical text from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
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“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” St Jerome