Jesus is talking with the chief priests and elders about the vineyard and how it should be protected and cared for so that it produces fruit. He shared the story of a father who asked his two sons to go into the vineyard to work. One said, “Yes, sir” but never went, the other said, “No” but eventually had a conversion and went to work.
Jesus asked the chief priests and elders, “Which son did the father’s will?” They replied saying the son who eventually went to work. Jesus affirms their answer in a poignant manner saying, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Why? Because when John the Baptist came preaching repentance and following God’s law of love to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, they converted, but even after seeing this the chief priests and elders did not convert and follow Christ because they lacked the faith, hope and love necessary to follow him.
Now when Jesus said “tax collectors”, it does not mean all tax collectors, that would be an unintended meaning, some might even say “discriminatory” as if all tax collectors were bad. Rather, Jesus meant those “tax collectors” who were corrupt, those who overcharged, much like Zaccheus who repented of this sin and gave back to the poor and to those he defrauded. It’s okay to be a fair tax collector.
In today’s Gospel Jesus continues his theme of working in the vineyard. He tells the parable of the landowner who sent his servants to the tenants who are to share with him the produce. Instead of receiving some fruit from the tenants, they disrespect the land-owner and beat his servant, kill a servant, and stone an-other. The landowner then sends his son thinking they will respect him, but they kill him thinking that they will inherit all the produce.
Jesus then asked, “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” The chief priests and elders replied: “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper time.” It is clear to most that Jesus is drawing a parallel between the chief priests and elders, and the bad tenants in the parable. They basically indict themselves for Jesus said to them, “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
As far as the harsh punishment for those bad ten-ants, Jesus tried to get them to convert by quoting Sacred Scripture: “Did you never read in Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner-stone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes.” Matt 22:42-43
We know of course that some of the elders did con-vert, repent and follow Jesus, such as the famous Irish man, Nick O’Demus. Okay, that was a joke, his real name was Nicodemus and he was “a ruler of the Jews” (Jn. 3:1) who became a disciple of Christ. We read about how Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus in an honorable way since he brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to Jewish burial custom.” (Cf. Jn. 19:39-42).
Little did Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea know that their burial of Jesus in the “customary” fashion would give rise to the famous Shroud of Turin, whereby the markings on that shroud appear to be of a deceased man experiencing a life transforming event that is emblazoned on the shroud in an inexplicable manner. Could it be evidence of Christ’s passion and resurrection? It seems probable, but you do not need to cling to that belief. Catholics in good standing can have different opinions on it.
However, a Catholic who wants to savour the fruit of faithfulness must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Son of Mary who was rejected by some Jews (some people believe it was all the Jews, but this is to miss the fact that his Apostles and his Mother Mary were Jews), was crucified and died to take away our sins through the sacraments, and then rose gloriously so that he could continue his saving work through his Catholic Church: her prayers, teachings and sacraments.
As we read in the last chapter of Matthew’s Gospel: The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshipped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Mt. 28:16-20.
Let us continue to be those faithful disciples of Christ who continue to learn and trust that Jesus Christ is truly with us in the Holy Eucharist, and other sacraments, until the end of the age.
Peace in Christ,
Fr. Thomas McCabe