We have all heard this parable of the tenants proclaimed many times, and we are all very familiar with its meaning. But, how many of us, including myself, can say that we have grasped its meaning? How many of us can say that we are truly living its meaning or at least sincerely trying to live its meaning?
The main problem in the parable is that the “tenants” after sometime began to think that the produce of the vineyard belongs to them. And as this thought grew they began to behave and live as though they were the landlord; they became selfish and ungrateful to the landlord; instead of sharing the profits of the produce with the landlord, the Bible tells us that when the landlord sent servants to collect the share of his profit that was rightly due to him, they seized these servants, “thrashed one, killed another and stoned the third, and all the many others the landlord sent to them. And, when the landlord eventually sent His Son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance. So, they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
My brothers and sisters is Christ, it is important to reflect on how the meaning of this parable is meant to speak to us and about us. For the sake of simplicity, let us understand that first, the “vineyard” is a metaphor that represents the world in which we live in. The “tenants” represents ourselves; you and I; and the “landlord” of the vineyard stands for God. Regardless of how much the landlord cares for the tenants; regardless of how much God cares for us, our response can be very disappointing; a higher degree to some and lower to others.
As mere “tenants” while we labour in the vineyard, the fruits that is produced does not belong to us, the true owner of the produce and the harvest belongs to the landlord; not us! And, this is a very important truth that we can so easily forget in our daily living.
Let us reflect on this truth more deeply. We all know and believe that God created the universe and the world and every plant and animals and indeed every human person that exists. So, God is the Creator, we are the creatures. God is the landlord and we are merely the tenants, and the world in which we live in, is the vineyard. Our lifetime on earth as “tenants” is merely to work in the vineyard; we do not own the vineyard.
If we ponder on our lives and our perception of what we have and own, “Can we accept that everything that we have actually does not belong to us, but belongs to God? Can we accept that our lives, our children, our house, our car or bank account all belong to God, and not to us? We are merely custodians and “tenants” who are supposed to take care of all that God, our Creator and “landlord” has given us, so that we can then share the “fruits of our labour” with God?
If this is the truth that we are called to accept and live with, then we can see that one of the main problems in our lives and in the world is the distorted view that all that we have belongs to us and not to God. Such narrow and distorted views of life are precisely what today’s Gospel parable of the “tenants” is condemning.
And so, when the Holy Spirit challenges us to be more generous with the blessings we received from God, we have the tendency to ignore the promptings and challenges of the Holy Spirit; some of us withdraw, others freeze up; there are still others who get upset with preachers and priests who challenge us to share our wealth, our time, our children for the sake and the good of the Kingdom of God. We react impatiently and come up with shameless comments like “donation fatigue”, we then find ourselves saying we have no time, we are too tired, but at the same time making time for dinner outings, golf, gym exercises, and keeping up to some 90% of our wealth for the future needs of our old age and children and the like; this list can be endless.
The degree to which we are each guilty of these distorted way of living is not for me to judge, but for each of us to answer to God personally, when we meet Him at the gates of heaven, and give Him an account of how we have used the “produce” of the vineyard of our lives.
In all our reasoning, when we justify, rationalise and convince ourselves that we need to care for ourselves, do we realise that we eventually end up giving our leftover time, energy and loose change to God? And if this is the true of ourselves, which I hope is not the case, then are we not mirroring what the “tenants” in today’s parable did? If we are to keep up to 90% of what we have for ourselves instead of rightly sharing them with others in God’s Kingdom, “Are we not like the “tenants” who “thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third” each time we are challenged to share our wealth, time, energy and family for the greater good of others and God’s Kingdom?
My sisters and brothers in Christ, the Truth of the Gospel is never easy to accept let alone live; you and I need God’s graces and strength to live it; you and I need God’s Spirit to enlighten our minds with His Wisdom. This is because subconsciously we daily imbibe and breathe in the distorted attitudes of secularism, materialism, consumerism and relativism. This being so, and if we are not careful in living the discerning life of the Gospel, then we can easily push the truth of the “landlord” aside; we tell ourselves lives He is far away from us, and we can stop Him from interfering in our life; and even when He is to send us His Son to us, we will do away with Him.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why when Jesus was sent into our world to proclaim the Good News, He ended upon the Cross! To help us get in touch with this truth, I would like us to reflect on what Caryll Houselander wrote:
Christ looked at the people.
He saw them assailed by fear:
He saw the locked door;
He saw the knife in the hand;
He saw the buried coin;
He saw the unworn coat,
consumed by moth;
He saw the stagnant water
drawn and kept in the pitcher,
the musty bread in the bin –
He told them then
of the love
that casts out fear,
of the love that is four walls
and a roof over the head:
of the knife in the sheath,
of the coin in the open hand,
of the coin given
warm with the giver’s life,
of the water poured in the cup,
of the table spread –
the given –
the Kingdom of Heaven.
So, let us remind ourselves that the “Kingdom of God” is a reality that is within each of us. It has the power of growth like a seed; it is the deep longings of our hearts that nothing in this world can satisfy and no success can fulfil. We are made by God; we are meant to live for God; we are moulded to love like God. Unless we face and accept this fundamental Truth of our lives, we will always have the mentality of the “tenants” who think and live as though they are the “landlords”.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let me conclude by reminding ourselves that we do not own our lives; they belong to God; our true home is in heaven not here on earth. Our children also belong to God who dares to trust us to care for them and bring them up to be God-loving persons. Our health is meant to be blessings to be used to labour in God’s vineyard of this world so that our lives will lead others to God. Our wealth is meant also to be shared with other tenants who have less or none. Our time and our energy are to be harnessed and set ablazed with God’s love, so that all the other tenants may learn to respect and serve the “True Landlord” of our lives - God who our Creator, Jesus who is our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit who is our Sanctifier. Let us not be mistaken; we are “tenants of the vineyard”; we are children of God; we are not the “landlord”; we are not God.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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