Sunday, October 02, 2005
Mt. 21-33-46 The Tenants of the Vineyard
Mt. 21:33-46 is a parable closely following that found in vv. 28-32 which deal with the question: "Who is doing the Father's will?" Both parables are tied up together by the same image, that of the "vineyard." In the parable under consideration, Jesus hooks up with the Vineyard Song in Isaiah 5:1-7 which is actually plaintive song regarding a vineyard that refuses to give off its fruits inspite of the attention given to it by its owner. The resemblance however is immediately cut off after Mt. 21:33, for what follows is the story of a rebellion. The tenants of the vineyard refuse to give the owner his portion of the yield. Instead, they kill off the owner's messengers one by one (vv.34-36). Finally, the owner sends his son, the one who will inherit the vineyard. But he too was killed by those tenants (37-39). The parable ends with a question: "What do you think will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants?" And the answer should have brought the parable to a conclusion:
He will put those wretches to a misrable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their proper season.
Transfer of Privileges
At this point in the story, one is reminded of moments in salvation history where a privilege given by God to a place or to a person is withdrawn and given to another. This is the case of Shiloh and King Saul. Shiloh was the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant until it was transferred to David's Jerusalem. King Saul enjoyed the privilege of God's election until that privilege was taken away from him and given to David. The vineyard will be "let out to other tenants..." In Romans 9-11 we find Paul explaining why the Jews have ceased to be the People of God since the privilege has been given to the Church. The parable in Mt. 21:33-46 intimates why: in killing the owner's son and wanting to inherit the vineyard for themselves, the tenants were revealing their evil intent towards the owner. They too wanted him killed so that they can have his property. The graphic illustration of hatred towards the owner is first acted out against his son. Isn't it that to accept Jesus is to accept the One Who Sent Him? So conversely, anyone who hates Jesus, hates the Father. In this story of the Tenants of the Vineyard, the story of Israel's rejection of God's Messiah is actually presaged. And the Pharisees and chief priests understood it quite clearly! (cf. 45-46)
That the story is about Christ's rejection is quite clear in v. 42 where Jesus quotes from Ps. 118:22-23:
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.
Early Christian preaching has used this passage to refer to the rejection of Jesus by his people and the subsequent vindication he receives from God in the resurrection (cf. Acts 4:11; 1 Pet 2:7) . A cornerstone is prepared for a new edifice. The mention of it in the context of the parable intimates points to Jesus as the cornerstone of a new building. And God Himself will make this happen. We know when it does happen: at the glorification of Christ.
The Fruits that will be Rendered Back
The parable mentions the fruits that will finally be made available to the owner of the vineyard once the proper changes are made. In Matthew, as in the Gospels, "fruit" is most often associated with righteousness, hence "fruits of righteousness" and conversely, "fruits of wickedness" Below are the occurences of the word "fruit" and "fruits" in Matthew's gospels. Note that it is only in the case of the fig tree that Jesus curses and the parable of the farmer, where the meaning of "fruit" is not moral; while in Mt. 26, the reference is to the wine of the Last Supper.:
Mt 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of penance.
Mt 3:10 For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that doth not yield good fruit, shall be cut down, and cast into the fire.
Mt 7:17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
Mt 7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit.
Mt 7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire.
Mt 12:33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good: or make the tree evil, and its fruit evil. For by the fruit the tree is known.
Mt 13:8 And others fell upon good ground: and they brought forth fruit, some an hundred fold, some sixty fold, and some thirty fold.
Mt 13:23 But he that received the seed upon good ground, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth, and beareth fruit, and yieldeth the one an hundredfold, and another sixty, and another thirty.
Mt 13:26 And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle.
Mt 21:19 And seeing a certain fig tree by the way side, he came to it and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he saith to it: May no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And immediately the fig tree withered away.
Mt 21:41 They say to him: He will bring those evil men to an evil end and let out his vineyard to other husbandmen that shall render him the fruit in due season.
Mt 26:29 And I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.
Mt 7:16 By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Mt 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them.
Mt 21:34 And when the time of the fruits drew nigh, he sent his servants to the husbandmen that they might receive the fruits thereof.
Mt 21:43 Therefore I say to you that the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruits thereof.
In other words, the "fruit" that is referred to in this passage are not different from the "fruits of the Spirit" mentoned in Gal. 5 or the lasting fruits by which the Father is honored in John 15.