When the rent is due MATTHEW 21:33–43
By Fr Mikhail Woodruffe O Carm
Picture this: someone who owns some property, ‘fixes up’ that property, rents it out to tenants and that landowner migrates from their homeland. Isn’t this a very familiar scene in our Trinidad & Tobago and Caribbean context?
Sometimes this plan does not go so smoothly or as envisioned. Land disputes can be a delicate issue in the relations of families and acquaintances. Similarly, this gospel scene gets dramatic quickly when the migrated landowner sends servants for his ‘rent’ or as the gospel scene says, his ‘produce’.
The tenants seem to forget that it is the landowner who planted the vineyard, fenced it round, dug the winepress and built a tower. The landowner was the generous one to lease the land to them.
They begin acting in an entitled way, regarding themselves wrongly as owners, not renters. They claimed ownership of what was not fully theirs.
The Earth and all material goods that we enjoy belong to God. Some persons are uncomfortable with us speaking about the environment as Catholics. Pope Francis has urged in this ‘Season of Creation’ and in his Laudato Si’ document that care for our common home, the Earth, is to recognise that all good things come from God.
To do this, we are called to see the Earth on which we live not as our own, but God’s. We are stewards, as God commissioned Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; and as the landowner commissioned these tenants in today’s gospel.
The Church teaches that our income and our material blessings are not only meant for us but are gifts from God for the common good of all persons, especially the less fortunate. Yes, that includes what we have worked and sacrificed for and claim as “our own”.
Jesus calls us to interpret this text a step further when He quotes Psalm 118: 22– 23, that “… it was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone”. Jesus addressed the chief priests and elders in His earthly day and also speaks to us today, to remind us that He is the true heir to the vineyard or property of His Father’s Kingdom. Jesus brings our focus to our true home in His Father’s Kingdom. We can often lose sight of God’s love and mercy in passages like these especially with words of death and condemnation.
The landowner, having lost so many of his workers (Old Testament prophets) who were murdered by the tenants, is willing to risk all and send his heir—his beloved son, into what has now become a ‘valley of death.’ Such is the love of God to send His only-begotten Son amongst us, to the point of death.
Jesus’ death outside of the city is prefigured in the story of this son who is murdered outside the vineyard. As we know, death will not have the final say in the passion of Jesus Christ: He is the keystone or cornerstone of salvation.
This gospel does not give us reason to be self-righteous Catholic Christians but calls us to keep our eyes on the true landowner and His heir. All the baptised share in the common priesthood, by which we are charged with tending the vineyard of the spiritual well-being of our brothers and sisters around us, Catholic or non-Catholic.
This passage is an invitation, exhortation and reminder of our solemn responsibility to care for God’s vineyard that is our earthly home, as well as to bear good spiritual fruit by our words, thoughts and actions, trusting in God’s mercy for our place in the Kingdom of God.
To those who have this spirit of humility is the promise of possession of the Kingdom of God assured. Isn’t it amazing that those who claimed ownership for themselves are not guaranteed the true homeland of eternal life, but rather those who produce fruit with humble hearts?
The Gospel meditations for October are by
Fr Mikhail Woodruffe O Carm, a Trinidadian Carmelite friar who recently finished Carmelite formation in the United States.