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.

Parable of the Tenants

sistine isaiahWhat did the vineyard owner do to deserve the tenants’ violent rebellion?

Which means: What did the good Lord do, to deserve the ancient Israelites violent rebellion? What did the ancient prophets say, which provoked the people to persecute and kill them?

Things like, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And your neighbor as yourself.” “You shall be holy as the Lord Himself is holy.” “Circumcise not just your foreskins, but your hearts.”

How about prophecies of the Messiah? “A virgin shall bear a son to be called Emmanuel.” “My servant shall not clamor or crush the bruised wick. He shall be pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins… We had all gone astray, but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.”

Or prophecies of the heavenly Jerusalem? “The gates of the city shall be the tribes of Israel, and the name of the city shall be: The Lord is there.” “Your dead will live; their bodies shall rise. Let those who live in the dust wake up and shout for joy. The dew shall be a dew of light.”

They prophesied, and bore witness to, the pure religion, the pure beauty, the pure self-sacrifice, and the pure divine triumph of the Christ. For this, the prophets suffered. At the hands of the complacent, the self-indulgent, the dishonest, the avaricious, the proud, and the desperately ego-centric.

But the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord Jesus can and will unite us with Himself, so that we can give to God our share of the produce, at the proper time. Then the prophecies of the new Jerusalem will come true, in us.

The Duty of Religion, Freely Offered

Marlon Brando Godfather
Does God break kneecaps?

Today at Holy Mass we read the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.

The vineyard owner sets up a productive, eminently workable farm. Then he leases it to some fortunate tenants, who produce a bountiful harvest with very little trouble. At the proper time, the owner of the establishment sends his emissaries to “obtain some of the produce of the vineyard.” (Mark 12:2)

Now, one way to interpret this: Our Creator has given us life and a fruitful earth, many blessings, and countless opportunities to make good. All He asks is that we offer a return to Him—by practicing religion.

That is: We must acknowledge that we owe God everything. But if we pray every day, obey His commandments, and give Him an hour a week in church, along with some honest financial offering–that satisfies our duty. We get to keep “the rest,” so to speak.

Palermo Pantocrator Christ priestWe can apply the entire parable, using this interpretation. How does our Creator insist on us human beings doing our religious duty? Does He use force or threats? After all, don’t a lot of people skip religion these days?

The owner in the parable “insists” on receiving His due portion by: sending his defenseless son. The Son of God came not to break kneecaps, but to show us perfect religion. He never laid a violent hand on anyone. In fact, He never exactly demanded anything. He simply showed that true faithfulness to the Father brings peace to the soul, and genuine joy—joy beyond what the world can give.

Christ invoked no authority, other than the authority of the truth. Our Creator does not force anyone to practice religion. Precisely because religion must involve love and gratitude, freely offered.

Doesn’t mean that God will endure mockery forever. A reckoning will come. Jesus came once in gentleness; He will come again with terrifying judgment. We do need to teach our children to fear hell if they skip Mass. Gentle Jesus Himself said that the owner would put to death the tenants who refused to practice religion.

But the way the owner went about “collecting” his portion—not by force, but by kindness aimed at reconciliation—that method must guide us always. It cost the son his life. But that’s the parable’s message: A Christian willingly dies for the sake of religion, but would never kill for it.

The Ready <3

Passion of the Christ scourging my heart is ready

We hear at Holy Mass today: Jacob loved Joseph, but Jacob’s other sons rebelled, and they sold Joseph into slavery. The owner made the land serviceable for the tenants, but they rebelled. The owner sent his son to make peace, and the tenants killed him.

Rebellion against a kind and loving authority, against a kind and loving father. The prophet Jeremiah put is to us at Holy Mass yesterday: “More torturous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy. Who can understand it?”

In our hearts, we find rebellion—the human version of Satan’s response to the heavenly Father. Non serviam. Again, we read in the book of the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 2): The Lord laid a yoke on the neck of Israel, the yoke of faithful obedience. And Israel replied, “I will not serve.”

Today we celebrate our only First-Friday Mass of this year’s Lent. Four weeks from today is Good Friday. So let’s mediate on the remedy God has given us for our rebellious hearts.

sacredheartIn The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson put Psalm 57:8 on the lips of Christ, as they bound Him to the scourging post. “My heart is ready, Father; my heart is ready.” Mel didn’t pull that out of nowhere. St. Augustine taught that Psalm 57 is “a song of the Passion.”

The ready heart: our Lord’s, and our Lady’s. No rebellion, no pride, no ‘mine!’ Only: “My soul proclaims God’s goodness.” Only: “Praise be to you, Father, for revealing your wisdom to little children.” Only: “Thy will be done.”

In our Lord’s Heart, and His mother’s, we find the original peace of prelapsarian Eden. We find the Spirit by which we sinners can become adopted children of the heavenly Father. In the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart, we find no rebellion, no ego. We find a human will and human affections that reverberate in harmony with the eternal and infinite divine will. We find: True citizenship in the Kingdom of Reality.

The grace that flows out of the Sacred Heart can quell all the rebellion in our hearts–the rebellion that actually only serves the Overlord of the Kingdom of Lies. The grace that comes to us in the Blessed Sacrament of the flesh and blood of God: it can heal the tortuousness that we find whenever we take an honest look inside.

Jeremiah lamented, “The human heart is beyond remedy!” But God heard that lament, and He gave us the remedy. The Sacred Heart of Christ and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Good out of Tenants’ Evil

The crown of thorns Pope Pius sent to Jefferson DavisOur Sunday gospel readings work out very conveniently for us. Just a fortnight ago, we meditated on a fruitful vineyard at harvest time. We imagined the workers, and how they got hired, and how much they got paid at sundown.

Our parable this Sunday has one very significant difference. A difference involving the owner. Last time, we saw the vineyard owner jog up and down the road to the town square, and back to the vineyard–not once, not twice, but six times. In the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, on the other hand, the owner decided to go on…a journey. Where? Far away.

Continue reading “Good out of Tenants’ Evil”

Wickedness vs. Patience

John XXIII Vatican IIWhat did the wicked tenants do? (Click the link to read the parable.)

They rebelled. The owner had planted and equipped an orderly vineyard, a beautiful farm where it was delightful to work. Justly, the owner expected to receive his produce from the land he himself had developed. He had provisioned his tenants, we can be sure, with more than enough to live on. When the owner sent his messengers, and then patiently even sent his son, he asked for no more than his rightful due.

But the grasping, impatient tenants rebelled. Blinded by selfishness, they could not see that they owed their entire livelihood to the good management and foresight of the owner. The tenants did not want to co-operate. They wanted to rule. But their blind lust for power gave them only chaos and death.

Now—if you are like me, you woke up this morning wanting news about:

1) when we would have a new pope and

2) when the federal-budget sequester would end.

I can make no comment whatsoever on the second subject. And I know I said a couple weeks ago that I thought we could look forward to having a new pope by Holy Week.

But, you know what? Maybe we won’t. Maybe the Cardinals will not decide things quickly. Maybe they will argue, and disagree with each other, and take a long time.

st-peters-sunriseLet’s remember what happened in the fall of 1962, over fifty years ago now. The Second Vatican Council convened for its first session. Over 2,400 bishops met together in St. Peter’s Basilica. They sang together and prayed together. It was beautiful. Then they proceeded to argue and disagree with each other for two months. They did not reach the required 2/3 majority on anything. Anything. The first session closed in early December with no official teachings whatsoever.

Pope John declared with glee: The Council will have to have a second session! Praised be God for allowing us to show the world that the shepherds of the God’s Church love each other–and God, and the truth–enough to argue about it ad nauseum. All will be well. Good things take time. As they say, Rome was not built in a day.

A young priest, at the Council as a theological advisor, agreed. Heading home for Christmas, and looking forward to more intense debate in 1963, the priest said:

The fact that no text has gained approval is evidence of the great, astonishing, genuinely positive, truly epoch-making result of the first session.

Continue reading “Wickedness vs. Patience”

Battles Royale + Promised Land Locale

Seems somehow fitting that the Hoyas should fall in double overtime on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads.

…Today at Mass we pray part of Psalm 105. This psalm recounts the history of God’s faithfulness to His chosen people.

His great faithfulness towards Israel began with _____________. Abraham had a son named ______________. And a grandson named ______________.

Moses led the people back to the ______________ _________.

This is review, right? We went over this twelve days ago.

Now, Psalm 105 and our Lord Jesus’ Parable of the Wicked Tenants agree on one very important point.

Where is the Promised Land? Where is the land flowing with milk and honey, where God’s chosen ones may live in peace? Where is the well-cultivated vineyard where fruits grow at the proper times?

Psalm 105 concludes with these words:

He gave them the lands…that they might keep His statues and observe His teachings.

The Promised Land cannot be found on any earthly map. Only in heaven do they have the full Promised Land road atlas.

The Promised Land is where people obey God.

Who Stocked My Man?!

Before Darth Vader was Darth Vader, he enacted King Lear in Central Park.

…In both of our recent parables, emissaries of the master come to grief at the hands of recalcitrant subjects–and the master flies into rage at such ungrateful defiance.

If you are like me, this reminds you of the fourth scene of Act II of the great masterpiece.

Lear, arriving at Gloucester’s castle, finds his messenger confined in the stocks. Gloucester had warned that the king would not take it well that his man would be treated like a common criminal.

Drama of the most sublime intensity ensues… (You may recognize a prayer or two of Lear’s, or the famous “Reason not the need” speech.)



And guess what? Paul Scofield, sometimes known as Sir Thomas More,* also played King Lear! (And, no, it is not Judi Dench playing Goneril; it’s Irene Worth.)



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NB. “A Man for All Seasons:” Greatest movie ever

2. Stay calm while watching clip #2. In the early seventies, they experimented with strange close-ups in a number of Shakespeare-movie productions.

2,011 Years of an Uncommon Era

Last Sunday after Mass someone said to me, “Father, it’s too bad we had to have the Diocesan Appeal. I missed your homily, because I could not make any sense out of that parable about the vineyard and the wicked tenants.”

Perhaps some people are saying to themselves right now, “The parable about the wedding guests makes no sense to me, either. But what are the chances that this joker will be able to explain it?”

Before we get to these parables, I have a couple questions for you.

What year is it?

Continue reading “2,011 Years of an Uncommon Era”