Jesus uses many images to portray the kingdom of God. One of his favorite images is that of the vineyard which he again uses in today’s Scripture. In today’s parable of the vineyard (Matthew Chapter 21:33–43). Jesus paints an image of his church, one which is less than flattering. It is an image of a church that has gone astray, a church that is tended by those who think it is theirs to use at will, to bend to their own ends, and not to do the will of God — the true master.
This striking parable has reference, obviously, to the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day who rejected him, and would put him to death. But there is more to this parable than condemnation of the Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus.
This parable has a message for all times, and especially for the church today. The property owner in the parable is God the father. The tenant farmers refer to the religious leaders whose job it is to serve the church, unselfishly, not lording over the faithful as if they were their masters. The servants who were sent to obtain the Master’s "share of the grapes" represent the prophets and saints who labored to do the Lord’s will in his vineyard but were persecuted for their efforts by corrupt, religious leaders. The son, whom God finally sent, is Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins. Jesus quotes the Old Testament scriptures which refer to ihmself as the "cornerstone" of the new kingdom, but was rejected and continues to be rejected by corrupt religious leaders.
We have all been planted in the vineyard by God and we must all bear fruit for our stewardship in this vineyard. No one can presume to be the owner, the master of this fruitful kingdom. There is only one master, one owner, and that is almighty God. We are all called to be co-operative, fruitful workers in this church. This parable does not sing of a co-operative church: it sees only a harvest of those useless, wild grapes that sprout up in the untended vineyard. The gift that God had given was neglected and scorned.
If church leaders should act this way today, and God forbid, the vineyard will be taken away from them and given to those who will yield a rich harvest. On the other hand, if the church’s leaders are willing servants, fruitful and contented workers, acting decently and respectfully in accordance with the example of God’s only son, his blessing will be upon them as well as those in their charge.
The church is the people of God, struggling to be faithful in a sinful world. Let us pray for our fragile church which is made up of weak, human vessels, striving to be more than we are.
Heavenly father, help our church walk in a manner worthy of the calling You have given us. Help us in our dealings with one another to have humble and gentle hearts. Grant us the patience to help us bear one another’s burdens with love. Inspire with courage our leaders to lead wisely and fruitfully for the good of all.
Fr. Hugh Duffy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Hull, England. Born in Donegal, Ireland, he was ordained in 1966 in Dublin, Ireland. He is pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Okeechobee, Florida, where he served for 30 years and built a new Church, debt-free, in 2013. He founded Christian Community Action (CCA) in Ireland that built housing for seniors, a sheltered workshop and bakery for people with disabilities, a community center, and an addiction treatment center. Since 2013 he has traveled across America as an Outreach Priest for Cross Catholic Outreach, Inc. Duffy’s recent book, "What is This Thing Called Faith?" is a collection of meditations with reflections for readers on the sayings of Jesus. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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