Let’s say you’re a parent reading this right now. Imagine the pain that could come from parenting an ungrateful child. For instance, a mom carries her pregnancy for nine months, delivers the baby, resigns from her job to nurture this baby with affection. You breastfeed the baby for 6 months. You send her to kindergarten, run back and forth the school to pick her up. You nurture this child with moral and christian values. As she grows older, you spend your savings to send her to the best private, very expensive schools. All you want is to get the best for your child. Imagine that this child gets to college only to join a notorious gang. She does drugs, smokes recklessly, goes to parties, gets drunk, and is finally thrown out of college. How would you feel as a parent? What will be your reaction towards this child? Sometimes, it feels like that in relation to how humanity treats God. Evil seems to have become a recurring phenomenon in our time. Aren't we ungrateful in most instances by our actions toward God?
Two parallel accounts are presented in the readings with the theme revealing God’s apparent disappointment. The prophet Isaiah gives a descriptive account of the vineyard planted on a fertile hillside. The vintner/winegrower (the Lord) puts extra efforts to care for the vineyard (Judah). The vintner spades the soil, removes hard stones, and provides a hedge around it to prevent intrusion. He plants the choicest vine that can be found, builds a watchtower to guard the crop. He chisels out a winepress in bedrock. The winegrower provides nourishment in anticipation of good produce, yet the vineyard fails. It yields wild grapes instead. The prophet asks a disappointing question, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?”
The last verse of the reading answers the metaphor for the vineyard this way, “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his cherished plant; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Is. 5:7) Why wouldn’t the vintner be disappointed? The Lord does everything for the house of Israel in anticipation to cultivate a people with a profound joy. He expects positive returns -justice, appreciation, love. Rather, he finds bloodshed and disaster. His people disappoint Him.
How did they treat the Son of Man?
Christ uses a parable to narrate a similar experience. The landowner plants a vineyard, puts up a hedge, digs a winepress, and builds a tower (Matt. 21:33-43). The landowner leases it out to tenants. As in the case of the prophet Isaiah (5:1-7), Jesus’ landowner is grossly disappointed. The tenants pay him back in a very bad way. They kill the first batch of messengers, kill the second batch, and ultimately kill his son whom he thinks will be respected. Like the prophet, Jesus asks in disappointment, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” Of course, their answer is that he will put the wretched men to a wretched death and develop a Plan B for his vineyard.
Jesus predicts his death and resurrection
The tenants in the parable represent the chief priests, scribes, and elders who, like their ancestors, kill the prophets of God in Israel. God’s Son is Christ Jesus whom they also kill. Here, Christ speaks to them about his own death and resurrection. He concludes, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes.”
Are we like these ungrateful tenants?
Is it out of place to say that God might be asking, “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I had not done?” Are we any different from the Old Testament Israel or the Pharisees and Scribes of Christ's time? What do we see in today’s world other than blatant ingratitude, hatred, unhealthy competition, lies, anger, selfishness, etc? How are preachers who stand up for truth treated? How are defenders/advocates of the sanctity of life from conception to natural death are treated? How does society view those who preach modesty and virtues in our time? The world is God’s vineyard, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters” (Psalm 24:1-2).
What else will the Lord do that he hasn’t done? He provides us with the sun, the moon, the stars, the rains. He makes our farms yield a good harvest. He heals us when we are sick. He provides vegetation. He saves us from dangers. Above all, God has given us the greatest gift, His Son Jesus Christ, to make sure that we are saved. But our selfishness and pride make us reject him. We are pushing God out of our homes and families, out of our school systems, out of our politics, out of the media. We yield "wild grapes" - toxic power, oppressive fame, and disordered affection in pursuit of material possession. We want it our way, not God’s way. Why won’t God be disappointed?
The Lord is disappointed in our ungratefulness, pride, malice, anger, wickedness, murder, etc. Obviously, wicked tenants will be made to pay for their wickedness, as Christ says, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit” (Matt. 21:43).
The way out
Saint Paul’s message to the Philippians presents a glimmer of hope for the messengers of God. Paul encourages prayer and petition, as well as a thankful heart. The perennial truth is that the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard the hearts and minds of those who stand firm in Christ Jesus.
Let’s stick with the good, with “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, anything excellence, anything worthy of praise.” Those are the hallmarks of good tenants.
Can you intentionally keep your eyes on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, worthy of praise as you relate with others in the following week? Ask yourself the question, “Am I being a good tenant or an ungrateful one? Is the owner of the vineyard pleased with me?" You must be intentional about this; else it won’t work.
Readings: 1st- Is. 5:1-7; 2nd- Phil. 4:6-9; Gospel- Matt. 21:33-43