By the time Matthew wrote his Gospel, Jesus had died, risen, and ascended, so Matthew’s community is fully aware that the son referred to in Jesus’ parable to the chief priests and elders this week prefigures Jesus himself, sent by the Father and killed by the tenants working in his vineyard. In the gospel, the Pharisees are all too ready to kill God’s Son; they have turned their vision away from God and look only to their own comfort and gain. Yet even here, Jesus is not condemning anyone: he is simply inviting the people – and the chief priests and elders in particular – to rethink what they are doing, urging them to try to be true to God’s love for them, open to the grace God would like to bestow upon them. But the Pharisees have set up walls that keep them from seeing God’s plan, barriers that block out all vision of Jesus himself, and so the kingdom of heaven will be taken away from them, and given to a people that will produce its fruit.
You would think that, if nothing else, the elders would understand Jesus’s quote from the Scriptures: The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Psalm 118). They are the erudite teachers and leaders; they should know that The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel (Psalm 80), and that, in spite of all God did for his vineyard in Isaiah’s time – he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines – the vineyard would be destroyed because of the infidelity of the people of Israel. But their vision is too cloudy to see even the texts through which they were educated.
Post-Resurrection, Paul’s message to the Philippians echoes that of Jesus to the chief priests and elders: do not close yourselves to God behind walls of anxiety; rather, open yourselves daily to God’s ongoing care and grace, welcoming the peace of God and acknowledging all the good God’s love effects in your life. Every deed, every word, every thought we enjoy must be rooted first and foremost in God’s excellence rather than in human understanding: contemplate whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious. Keep God always in your vision, and the kingdom of God, in your hands, will produce much fruit….
This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.