27th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Sometimes the parables of Jesus are fairly obvious and we can grasp the essential meaning quickly and clearly, that of the prodigal son and merciful father or the Good Samaritan for instance, but occasionally the story is complicated and difficult to immediately assess. In the parable of the absentee landlord and his vineyard there are odd and disjointed happenings. The owner, having done what he can for his vineyard and buildings goes way and leases out the plant.
The time comes when he wants his legitimate share of the produce: "When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit." (Mt 21:34)
But nothing doing, the tenants have other ideas; it's a story as old as time and we can hear echoes of the poor and dispossessed in this struggle between the different class groups! Oppressive landlords, owning huge tracts of land, demanding their tithe from those who live, breathe and work the land, which ultimately does not belong to them. Then come the servants of the oppressors, who demand tithes on behalf of the absentee landowner and lastly, such an odd twist here, the peculiar landowner having seen the violence meted out to servants for some unaccountable reason-sends his son, maybe as so often happens, the warrior reconquering what is lost-who is then killed! But more: in a twist the hopes of the tenants are that after all this, the land will become theirs! Such blindness at every level! It's like a very bad, tragic Italian Opera !!
And yet there is meaning, but not the sort we immediately want to read or see or hear. It's simple; this parable is not about us at all, it isn't like others Jesus uses to explain the nature and quality of the Kingdom of God. Instead this is all about the challenge of our mission.
We are all very busy trying to maintain our Church, our doctrines, our structures but this parable shows us the futility of debating how God's rule and law exists in our time, in our Church, in our communities unless we grasp one fundamental truth. God's relationship to us is all about the future hope, that expectation of the Kingdom coming, but because of that Jesus demands we let go of the past, and accept the new, we do not belong to the past but to a new kingdom!
We are the future ones in this phrase when he says: ""Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit". (Mt 21:43) As they say, "go for it!"
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church, Oxford