The Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen
Speculum humanae salvationis. Cologne, frater Nycolaus (scribe); c. 1450 National Library of the Netherlands
We Must Put Our Trust in Love; We Cannot Own It
Paris, October 03, 2014 (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo
1) Fruits of love.
The passage of today Gospel opens with the image of the vineyard that is used often in the Old Testament to indicate the kingdom of God, his people or even a beloved woman. The connection with the first reading, Isaiah’s “canticle of the vineyard” (5, 1-7) that poetically describes all the care and attention that God has for his people, is clear. God expects fruits from his beloved people but the latter doesn’t provide them. Isaiah’s image of a passionate God, who does for each of us what no one ever will, is beautiful. He is a farmer God that, as every farmer does, dedicates to the vineyard more heart and more care than to any other field. God has for each of us a passion that no disappointment puts off, that is never short of wonders and that after each of our refusal restarts to besiege our hearts.
Before anything else and before any action, let’s rest in this experience of feeling to be a beloved vineyard and let ourselves be loved by God. Each of us is nothing more than a tiny vine, however God does not want to give up on anyone of us.
The fruit that God expects is like that of the vine. If every tree cares only for itself and only to reproduce, it would be enough to produce seeds every few years, just one fruit. Instead, every autumn, there is an abundance of fruits, a magnificent generosity offered to all, to men, to small insects, to the earth. The bounty of nature is a model for the human heart.
Isaiah, in this his canticle, says that it is a story that cannot continue indefinitely. A judgment (Is 5, 3) is needed. Punishment is required: the vineyard will fall into ruin, it will no longer be cultivated and briers and thorns will grow there. But the punishment of God is never forever. God’s threats are to convert, not to destroy.
Jesus in his parable quotes few sentences of the “canticle of the vineyard” of Isaiah, where the great Prophet describes in depth the history of the people of Israel for whom God cares with faithful love. Jesus states that the main issue is not the production of fruits more or less good, but the will of the tenants to take the vineyard from the Lord. The farmers do not want to recognize the owner. This is their sin. They behave as if the vineyard belonged to them. When they kill the Son1 of the Master, they 1 It is not surprising that this way of doing reproduces a real situation at the time of Jesus and even after, until the 70s or so. The hilly region of Galilee was largely made up of large estates, purchased by foreign owners who rented them out to individuals or organized groups of tenants. The latter, according to the contract, had to deliver a certain part of the crop to the master, who, because was living far away, normally sent his trustees to collect it. It show it clearly: they want to be heirs and masters. But by rejecting the Lordship of God, they reject the cornerstone, the one who makes the world stand. Without the recognition of God, the world doesn’t stand and coexistence is shattered.
If we were to put ourselves into the bitter and violent logic of the tenants, we would repeat their senseless and brutal words: “This is the heir, come, let us kill him and we will get the inheritance.” If we were to give heed to this response crude and brutal, we would continue the harvest of blood which reddens the world. If to Christ’s question “What will the owner of the vineyard do after the killing of his son? “our response would be similar to the solution proposed by the Jews, we would have a quintessential punishment, new tenants, new taxes, but an old world. This idea of justice would bring things a step back, before the crime, keeping intact the unchanging cycle of give and take, or more precisely, of claim.
Jesus gives an answer that opens the heart to hope: the outcome of the story will be good, the vineyard will be generous with fruits, and the Lord will not waste in revenge the days of eternity. The kingdom of God will be given to a people so that they produce a fruit that is love and stands as the cornerstone, the guarantor of steady love.
Like living stones, we are called to be the living Church of Christ. Like branches we must adhere to Him who is the vine. We will then live in love and by love, being loved and loving the Lord. God does not give up and offers a new way to reach a love free and irrevocable, the fruit of that love, the true grapes: He sends his Son, who becomes man. God himself becomes the root of the vine,
He becomes the vine and the vine becomes indestructible. The people of God cannot be destroyed because God has entered into the ground, He is implanted in it. The new people of God is founded in God, who becomes man, calls us to be in Him the new vine and to be and to remain in Him.
2) The joy of love
What is the purpose of the vine? To bear fruit, to give the precious gift of grapes and good wine. The wine is the symbol and the expression of the joy of love. The Lord has chosen his people to have the answer of his love, and so the image of the vine has a nuptial meaning. The vine is an expression of the fact that God is looking for the love of his creature and wants to enter into a relationship of love, in a spousal relationship with the world through his chosen people.
Unfortunately, the history of the people of God is a story of infidelity. Instead of precious grapes only small “things inedible” are produced. Instead of “remaining” in the communion of love, man withdraws inside his egoisms and wants to have himself, God and the world only for himself. The happened also that, taking advantage of the absence of the owner, the peasants rebelled and refused to honor the contract. Not only that, but there could also be acts of violence against the collectors sent from the lords that were very powerful but also lived far away. In Jesus story, given the failures his delegates, the master send his son, his heir, trusting in His authority. The tenants act more viciously, killing him. Again, there is a true background: according to the law of the time a farm, if the owner died without heirs, passed into the hands of the first who occupied it. vineyard is devastated, the wild boar of the forest and all the enemies come and the vineyard becomes a desert.
The Will of God is not that of an owner who wants to be paid the rent and demands the death sentence of the men that killed his son. He does not want a vineyard that produces grapes of blood and bitter tears, but grapes sun-ripened by the love of his truth and full with the light of his love that springs from the heart of the Son. The Son who died on the cross and that is “the stone which the builders rejected” becomes “cornerstone,” the foundation of everything.
What more could the Lord have done? God has loved to the extreme sign: He so loved the world that He sent His Son giving him to death on a cross. As St. Paul says, on the cross Jesus “loved me and gave himself entirely to me.” This is the wonderful work of the Lord. The resurrection of Christ becomes the foundation and the beginning of each new life. It is the rematch, the victory of love.
To understand this divine logic, we should not cry so much on our infertility as shoots detached from the vine, but on the remembrance of the divine love that we betray. The tenderness of God and his gentle way of doing as divine Lover are the source of our joy.
Let’s give thanks from the bottom of our hearts to the One who said: “I am the vine and you are the branches that I make fruitful”. Let’s humbly ask him to grant us the grace to remain always united to Him in the everlasting mystery of dying and rising again and of the offering himself to the Father.
The consecrated Virgin in the world have offered and renew the offer of themselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12, 1). With this offer, they attached themselves to Christ as the branches to the vine and their being with Christ is the secret of their spiritual fruitfulness.
These consecrated women in the world are, together with Christ, next to our brothers and sisters in humanity. Humanity is the field in which Jesus sends them, intended to be, like Him,” in the things of the Father.”
These women are called to testify in a particular way the richness of the fruit that is generated by the fact of being with Jesus and like him in the things of the Father, in his will and in his salvific plan of love. Living and working in the world, they are called to live and witness the harmony between inner being and life. The habit of life with the Lord pushes them to go beyond what they are and to open to the dimension of love. For the consecrated women the moving words of Jesus: “Abide in me … abide in my love” (Jn 15, 7.9.) are the key to build an authentic spirituality, from the Love they receive to the love they give.
Calling them to virginity, the Lord did not take them away from anyone. The greater their union with Him grows, the greater become the resources to do their own gift to the brothers. These are resources of a love that reaches out to people even through the mysterious ways of the spirit.
Belonging to God is always a gift to the neighbor. Virginity does not deprive the woman of her prerogatives as wife and mother. It is with a ‘bride’s heart that the woman consecrated to Christ turns to the brothers. If it were not so she would be like a branch cut from the vine. Paul says, “Our qualification comes from God” (2 Cor 3, 5).
It is with the heart of a mother that the consecrated woman lives the spiritual motherhood in many forms. In her life, according to her own ability, she expresses a motherly “concern for people, especially for the most needy: the sick, the handicapped, the abandoned, orphans, the elderly, children, young people, the imprisoned, and, in general, people on the edges of society. In this way a consecrated woman finds her Spouse, different and the same in each and every person, according to his very words: ‘As you did it to one of the least of these (…), you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40) “(Saint John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem, 21).
It is a motherhood that, as it was for Mary, comes to us as a gift and is the beginning of something new. It is God’s answer to a gratuity of love that he himself has raised “to never leave the world without a ray of divine beauty to lighten the path of human existence” (Consecrated Life, 109).
Patristic Reading – Saint John Chrysostom – Homily 68 on Matthew Chapter 21, Verse 33- Matthew Chapter 21, Verse 44Mt 21,33-44
“Hear another parable. There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to receive the fruits. And the husbandmen took the servants, and beat some, and killed some, and stoned some. Again he sent other
servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. But last he sent unto them his son, saying, It may be they will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among
themselves, This is the heir, come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do to
those husbandmen? They say unto Him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard to other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them,
Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?”
Many things doth He intimate by this parable, God’s providence, which had been exercised towards them from the first; their murderous disposition from the beginning; that nothing had been omitted of
whatever pertained to a heedful care of them; that even when prophets had been slain, He had not turned away from them, but had sent His very Son; that the God both of the New and of the Old
Testament was one and the same; that His death should effect great blessings; that they were to endure extreme punishment for the crucifixion, and their crime; the calling of the Gentiles, the casting out of the Jews.
Therefore He putteth it after the former parable, that He may show even hereby the charge to be greater, and highly unpardonable. How, and in what way? That although they met with so much care, they were worse than harlots and publicans, and by so much.
And observe also both His great care, and the excessive idleness of these men. For what pertained to the husbandmen, He Himself did, the hedging it round about, the planting the vineyard, and all the rest, and He left little for them to do; to take care of what was there, and to preserve what was given to them. For nothing was left undone, but all accomplished; and not even so did they gain, and this, when they had enjoyed such great blessings from Him. For when they had come forth out of Egypt, He gave a law, and set up a city, and built a temple, and prepared an altar.
“And went into a far country;” that He bore long with them, not always bringing the punishments close upon their sins; for by His going into a far country, He means His great long-suffering.
And “He sent His servants,” that is, the prophets, “to receive the fruit;” that is, their obedience, the proof of it by their works. But they even here showed their wickedness, not only by failing to give the fruit, after having enjoyed so much care, which was the sign of idleness, but also by showing anger towards them that came. For they that had not to give when they owed, should not have been indignant, nor angry, but should have entreated. But they not only were indignant, but even filled their hands with blood, and while deserving punishment, themselves inflicted punishment.
Therefore He sent both a second, and a third company, both that the wickedness of these might be shown, and the love towards man of Him who sent them.
And wherefore sent He not His Son immediately? In order that they might condemn themselves for the things done to the others, and leave off their wrath, and reverence Him when He came. There are also other reasons, but for the present let us go on to what is next. But what means, “It may be they will reverence?” It is not the language of one ignorant, away with the thought! but of one desiring to show the sin to be great; and without any excuse. Since Himself knowing that they would slay Him, He sent Him. But He saith, “They will reverence,” declaring what ought to have been done, that it was their duty to have reverenced Him. Since elsewhere also He saith, “if perchance they will hear;” not in this case either being ignorant, but lest any of the obstinate should say, that His prediction was the thing that necessitated their disobedience, therefore He frames His expressions in this way, saying, “Whether they will,” and, “It may be.” For though they had been obstinate towards His servants, yet ought they to have reverenced the dignity of the Son.
What then do these? When they ought to have run unto Him, when they ought to have asked pardon for their offenses, they even persist more strongly in their former sins, they proceed to add unto their pollutions, forever throwing into the shade their former offenses by their later; as also He Himself declared when He said, “Fill ye up the measure of your fathers.” For from the first the prophets used to charge them with these things, saying, “Your hands are full of blood;” and, “They mingle blood with blood;” and, “They build up Sion with blood.”
But they did not learn self-restraint, albeit they received this commandment first, “Thou shalt not kill;” and had been commanded to abstain from countless other things because of this, and by many and various means urged to the keeping of this commandment.
Yet, for all that, they put not away that evil custom; but what say they, when they saw Him? Come, let us kill Him. With what motive, and for what reason? what of any kind had they to lay to His charge, either small or great? Is it that He honored you, and being God became man for your sakes, and wrought
His countless miracles? or that He pardoned your sins? or that He called you unto a kingdom?
But see together with their impiety great was their folly, and the reason of His murder was full of much madness. “For let us kill Him,” it is said, “and the inheritance shall be ours.”
And where do they take counsel to kill Him? “Out of the vineyard.”
2. Seest thou how He prophesies even the place where He was to be slain. “And they cast Him out, and slew Him.”
And Luke indeed saith, that He declared what these men should suffer; and they said, “God forbid;” and He added the testimony [of Scripture]. For “He beheld them, and said, What is it then that is written?
The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner; and every; one that falleth upon it shall be broken.” But Matthew, that they themselves delivered the sentence. But this is not a contradiction. For indeed both things were done, both themselves passed the sentence against themselves; and again, when they perceived what they had said, they added, “God forbid;” and He set up the prophet against them, persuading them that certainly this would be.
Nevertheless, not even so did He plainly reveal the Gentiles, that He might afford them no handle, but signified it darkly by saying, “He will give the vineyard to others.” For this purpose then did He speak by
a parable, that themselves might pass the sentence, which was done in the case of David also, when He passed judgment on the parable of Nathan. But do thou mark, I pray thee, even hereby how just is the sentence, when the very persons that are to be punished condemn themselves.
Then that they might learn that not only the nature of justice requires these things, but even from the beginning the grace of the Spirit had foretold them, and God had so decreed, He both added a prophecy, and reproves them in a way to put them to shame, saying, “Did ye never read, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes;” by all things showing, that they should be cast out for unbelief, and the Gentiles brought in. This He darkly intimated by the Canaanitish woman also; this again by the ass, and by the centurion, and by many other parables; this also now.
Wherefore He added too, “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes,” declaring beforehand that the believing Gentiles, and as many of the Jews as should also themselves believe, shall be one, although the difference between them had been so great before.
Then, that they might learn that nothing was opposed to God’s will of the things doing, but that the event was even highly acceptable, and beyond expectation, and amazing every one of the beholders (for indeed the miracle was far beyond words), He added and said, “It is the Lord’s doing.” And by the stone
He means Himself, and by builders the teachers of the Jews; as Ezekiel also saith, “They that build the wall, and daub it with untempered mortar.” But how did they reject Him? By saying, “This man is not of God; This man deceiveth the people;” and again, “Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil.”
Then, that they might know that the penalty is not limited to their being cast out, He added the punishments also, saying, “Every one that falleth on this stone, shall be broken; but upon whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.” He speaks here of two ways of destruction, one from stumbling and being offended; for this is, “Whosoever falleth on this stone:” but another from their capture, and calamity, and utter destruction, which also He clearly foretold, saying, “It will grind him to powder.” By these words He darkly intimated His own resurrection also.
Now the Prophet Isaiah saith, that He blames the vineyard, but here He accuses in particular the rulers of the people. And there indeed He saith, “What ought I to have done to my vineyard, that I did not;” and elsewhere again, “What transgression have your fathers found in me?” And again, “O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I grieved thee?” showing their thankless disposition, and that when in the enjoyment of all things, they requited it by the contraries; but here He expresses it with yet greater force. For He cloth not plead, Himself, saying, “What ought I to have done that I have not done?” but brings in themselves to judge, that nothing hath been wanting, and to condemn themselves. For when they say, “He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out the vineyard to other husbandmen,” they say nothing else than this, publishing their sentence with much greater force.
With this Stephen also upbraids them, which thing most of all stung them, that having enjoyed always much providential care, they requited their benefactor with the contraries, which very thing itself was a very great sign, that not the punisher, but the punished, were the cause of the vengeance brought upon them.
This here likewise is shown, by the parable, by the prophecy. For neither was He satisfied with a parable only, but added also a twofold prophecy, one David’s, the others from Himself.
What then ought they to have done on hearing these things? ought they not to have adored, to have marvelled at the tender care, that shown before, that afterwards? But if by none of these things they were made better, by the fear of punishment at any rate ought they not to have been rendered more temperate?
But they did not become so, but what do they after these things? “When they had heard it,” it is said, “they perceived that He spake of them. And when they sought to lay hands on Him, they were afraid because of the multitudes, for they took Him for a prophet.” For they felt afterwards that they themselves were intimated. Sometimes indeed, when being seized, He withdraws through the midst of them, and is not seen; and sometimes while appearing to them He lays a check upon their laboring eagerness; at which indeed men marveled, and said, “Is not this Jesus? Lo, He speaketh boldly, and they say nothing unto Him.” But in this instance, forasmuch as they were held in restraint by the fear of the multitude, He is satisfied with this, and doth not work miracles, as before, withdrawing through themidst, and not appearing. For it was not His desire to do all things in a superhuman way, in order that the Dispensation might be believed.
But they, neither by the multitude, nor by what had been said, were brought to a sound mind; they regarded not the prophet’s testimony, nor their own sentence, nor the disposition of the people; so entirely had the love of power and the lust of vainglory blinded them, together with the pursuit of things temporal.