Wicked Tenants, Right and Wrong

In the parable of the Wicked Tenants, the vineyard owner had fully equipped the vineyard ahead of time. He had developed it expertly, and he leased it to the tenants only when it was ready to produce plenty of wine annually. The tenants just had to put in their daily work. [Spanish]

grape vine mosaicOf course the tenants owed the landlord his rent, the portion they had agreed to pay when he leased the vineyard to them. Paying up would not have caused them any problems, provided they had worked diligently. They would have had plenty to live on, even after having paid the rent.

We read in the parable about how the tenants not only refused to pay the rent, they even became murderous in their refusal to do so. What made them neglect their duty, to the point of such violence? Had they gotten lazy, failed to work like they should have, and wound up with too little to pay the rent and also survive? Had they grown greedy and selfish? Did they want to keep it all for themselves, even though they had more than enough? Did their greed make them resent the landlord’s demand for his rent, even though he had every right to it?

Maybe the explanation for the tenants’ wickedness has to do with the landlord’s absence from the vineyard. The tenants did not know where he was. They assumed that he sojourned far away. His role in their lives impressed itself upon them every day, since it was the landlord who had provided them this well-appointed vineyard in the first place. The landlord remained present there, in the orderly rows of grape plants he had cultivated, and the equipment he had built.

But the tenants did not see the landlord. In their shortsightedness and self-centeredness, they grew to distrust him as an absentee. They resented him for going away, and they abandoned their loyalty to him. ‘He has nothing to do with us, so we will have nothing to do with him! He does not deserve our rent payments, and when he sends emissaries to collect the rent, they deserve death! And now he has the temerity to send his own son, as if that will win us over. No way! We will relish killing the son and casting off the bitter yoke of this absentee landlord forever.’

There are two ways of looking at what God demands of us. When our souls rest in spiritual consolation and peace, we can perceive that Almighty God has given us everything, and that He has done so freely, out of infinite love. All He asks is that we love Him back. And He asks for our love not for His sake, but for ours. By believing in God and loving Him, we save ourselves from giving our hearts to something beneath our dignity.

There is another way of seeing all this, however. It starts with: Where is this God? Not here; we see nothing of Him. Maybe—just maybe—He started this whole mess, back at the Big Bang. But we have not seen hide nor hair of Him since. What’s more, He is impossible to be friends with. When you give Him a chance, He demands too much. For Him to expect us to submit completely to His will? And accept that His absence and invisibility is not only ok, but actually for the best? He demands that we gaze at an ancient crucified carpenter, and offer our entire lives to that man? We must be willing to die for such a dreamer as Jesus of Nazareth? Come on. Too much.

Two perspectives on the one, actual, real God. Both 100% on-the-money. It is perfectly true that God demands nothing from us and only gives. He gives us the duties of religion only to benefit us. But it is also perfectly true that God demands the kind of faith and devotion that ultimately costs us everything. His demands are extreme; there’s no middle way, no real way to hedge our bets. Either you go all-in, bound to Christ unto death, or you wind up cursing God and hating Him, when the comforts of this passing life inevitably fade.

All the exterior “vineyard equipment” in the parable represents the interior powers that the Lord has given us to work with in life. We have inside us the capacity to seek the truth. We have the capacity to behold beauty. We have the capacity to love—to love not just comfort, not just a full belly and a warm bed–but to love another human being for that human being’s sake; to desire the happiness of another, not just my own.

The good Lord equipped us to do these things with our souls. When we do them, we wind up producing plenty of “produce.” The more we bestir ourselves to seek the truth, the more zeal we have for it. The more we quiet ourselves and behold beauty, the more beautiful we ourselves become. The more selflessly we love, the more love we have inside ourselves.

Then the rent seems like no burden at all—to give God the glory. We owe Him everything. When we give Him ourselves, He gives us much more than we had before.

One thought on “Wicked Tenants, Right and Wrong

  1. Thank you Fr. White for this wonderful teaching. This is so helpful for me in understanding more deeply my relationship with Our Lord. God Love you.

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