There was little more the owner of the land could have done to leave it in as good a condition as possible for the prospective new tenants (Matthew 21: 33 – 46). They got a deal that included preparation, fencing and tower already in place… later Jesus seems to liken this piece of land to the kingdom of God (v 43)… it was that good.
After handing it over, we are told the owner went away and left them to it. He was not going to stand over their shoulder watching every move they made in his heavenly vineyard. He trusted them to get on with it… and uphold their side of the agreement. After all, why would they not when such a good deal had been made available to them?
Naïve? Gullible? Weak?
They didn’t give him his due, however, and after sending servants who were mistreated and indeed killed, the owner had the thought that if he sent his Son, the tenants would respect him and do the right and proper thing. The essence of the word used for ‘respect’ suggests that they would be shamed into doing the right thing because as they saw the Son so they would see the Father who had treated the land (and them) so well in the first place. It wasn’t just that he was a landowner, he was a father and he was being fatherly to them in giving every chance to respect and fulfill the relationship between them.
Naïve? Gullible? Weak?
The apparent disaster of this approach unfolds as, rather than showing respect, repentance and a fruitful response, the tenants kill the Son and think they can claim his inheritance for their own.
It is hard to imagine God as naïve, gullible and witless and it has to be wondered if it was not possible for God to realize what was going to happen? Yet, still he chose to send his Son. But how could tenants imagine they would get away with it all… not fulfilling the agreement, maltreating (and killing) the servants, murdering the Son and stealing the vineyard of kingdom inheritance? Perhaps, if we need to find who in the story is naïve, gullible and weak, this is where we should begin looking.
If the landowner is guilty of anything, perhaps it is a guilt due to his diligence, trust and patience. Guilty of giving every opportunity to respond to his good grace before he is left with no other option than to return himself in judgement and sentencing; where he uses the measure against them that they have used against others, most notably his Son.
This may have been a story told against the religious elite of the day, but it calls me to remember the grace, gifts and generosity I have received on trust from God, while challenging me to reflect on how I treat (or allow others to treat) the servant poor who have a right to the Lord’s harvest.
But more, it calls me to remember the Lord of the Harvest will ask me to account for how I respond when the Son stands before me.
AMEN: Lord, have mercy.