Today’s Gospel is an allegory. The various features in the story need to be interpreted to understand its meaning.
The vineyard is the kingdom of God and its owner is God, who demands the grape harvest from the tenants. The tenants are the leaders of God’s Chosen People the Jews. The story is a judgement on the chief priests and Pharisees, because they did not obey God and do his will. They abused God’s messengers, the prophets, and killed his son, Jesus Christ.
After telling the story Jesus said to them ’Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.’
Who are ‘the nation’ to whom God entrusts his kingdom? The author of St Matthew’s Gospel probably thought that it was those communities of Christians, comprising both Jews and other nations, for whom he was writing his Gospel.
God has now entrusted his kingdom to us and to all who accept Jesus as God’s Son, and have promised to live by his teaching. To be entrusted with the kingdom of God is a huge responsibility. It is a difficult concept to grasp. Jesus taught us to pray ‘Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ The kingdom of God is not a geographical area or state. It is not the Christian church or any part of it. It is present when God’s will is done in heaven and on earth. By doing his will God reigns and his kingdom is established.
What is God’s will and how may we know it? What a huge but vitally important question. Christians look for answers in the Bible. In the parish church where I was confirmed, and in many other churches, the Decalogue is inscribed on the wall above the altar.
We can discern God’s will in the laws given to Moses and to the later prophets. Some of those laws no longer apply. For instance, Jews no longer practise animal sacrifice because the Jerusalem Temple is no more. Christians believe in the one all-sufficient sacrifice and oblation made by our Lord Jesus Christ in his Passion and Resurrection. We commemorate his sacrifice in the Mass and Holy Communion, as we are doing now. The command to honour our parents is still important reminding us to give special attention to the elderly and to any living alone who often suffer because of the regulations to combat the present pandemic.
The commandment forbidding representations of God in stone, wood and paint no longer applies because God has given us a representation of himself in the incarnation of his Son Jesus Christ.
We find God’s will especially in the teaching of Jesus, who interpreted Mosaic Laws especially in the Sermon on the Mount in St Matthew’s Gospel chapters 5,6 and 7. The Beatitudes assure us that Governments and all who hunger and thirst for righteousness and seek to be peacemakers are surely enabling God’s reign to be established on earth.
Another important source for finding God’s will is found in the letters of St Paul and other apostolic writings in the New Testament. Here is just one example from the letter to the Romans:
‘Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another, not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. (Romans 12 .9-11)
A great many people of every kind of faith, including those who do not believe in God, are producing the fruit of the kingdom of God by their good deeds and we give thanks for that.
If we are conscious that we are failing to live our lives in ways that please God and so prevent him from establishing his kingdom on earth we should repent, and say that we are sorry and want to do better. Jesus himself said that gives great joy to the angels in heaven. It certainly allows God to reign on earth as he does in heaven.
Crispin Harrison CR