(Fr. deLadurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy and secretary for diocesan religious education for the diocese of Arlington, Virginia. This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
Normally, a parable has only one point; the details are not to be stressed. To try to find a meaning for every detail turns a parable into an allegory. In this case, however, it is different: the details of the parable do have a meaning. The vineyard is the nation of Israel, and its owner is God. The tenants are the religious leaders of Israel, who were charged with cultivating the vineyard on God’s behalf. The servants who were sent successively at harvest time are the prophets, who were so often rejected and killed. The son who came last is none other than Jesus Himself. Here, in a vivid image, we have the history of Israel — but not only of Israel! We have also the story of anyone who tries to negate and deny the legitimate rights of God.
In a crucial insight, Pope John Paul II said, “Original sin attempts to abolish fatherhood.” What he meant was the fatherhood — the loving and providential care — of God over His creation. Each time any of us tries to usurp God’s rights of ownership, we, as it were, deny God His place as Father in our lives. The tenants in the parable thought that by killing the owner’s servants, and finally his own son, they could take the vineyard for themselves. They wanted God’s kingdom, but not His kingship.
All too tragically, it can be that way with us. When we sin, we ultimately reject the divine Fatherhood of God and prefer our own sense of self. Pridefully, we come to distrust God’s paternal care for us, or we begin to think that His will and way of life will be somehow harmful to us. Like the tenants in the parable, we begin to want things on our own terms, not those of the Lord.
We should keep in mind that the sending of the son to the vineyard is not simply an analogy for the Incarnation. Rather, it signifies every time and every way that the Father sends His Son into our lives. This means it signifies every moment of our life. Every occasion is a prime opportunity to produce the fruit God wants us to produce: the fruit of obedience, of worship, of reverence toward the Father. We need to be sensitive to the divine presence of the Son — in the sacraments, in the Word of God, in the sacred Eucharistic assembly, in God’s priests, in our neighbor, and so on — in order to avoid the daily, tyrannizing temptation to seize God’s kingdom without God. Refusing such hospitality, such a welcome, to the Son of God in our midst inevitably leads to our own destruction. On the other hand, calling to mind the Lord’s presence among us helps keep us aware of our status and our dignity as children of our heavenly Father.
The key to a fruitful life in God’s vineyard lies in recognizing His Fatherhood over us. We belong to God, not the other way around. The moment the temptation to turn away from God’s fatherly care creeps into our lives is the moment to take refuge in Christ Jesus the cornerstone, until pride gives way to humility and disrespect yields to love.