66. A Valuable Vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46)

“My daughter, all your miseries have been consumed in the flame of My love, like a little twig thrown into a roaring fire.” – Words of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska

Matthew 21:33-46: ‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a wine press in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. They will respect my son he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance. So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives’. Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone. This was the Lord’s doing and it is wonderful to see? I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’ When they heard his parables, the chief priests and the scribes realized he was speaking about them, but though they would have liked to arrest him they were afraid of the crowds, who looked on him as a prophet.

Christ the Lord  In this parable, Christ himself is one of the characters. The servants of the vineyard’s owners represent all the prophets and teachers sent by God to the people of Israel before the coming of Christ – from Moses to Micah. They represent the whole history of God’s attempt to bring men back into friendship with him through a loving call to repentance. How patient God has been! But even such patience could not transform men’s hearts. So God sent his son, Jesus Christ. The parable emphasizes the difference between the servants and the son. If ever Christ’s hearers had doubted his claim to be more than just another prophet, more than just another rabbi, more than just another great teacher and philosopher, this parable would surely cure them. Jesus Christ is Lord not just because he is better than any other religious or political leader, but because he is qualitatively different; he is the Son of God.

The Pharisees and chief priests understand the parable. They concede the point; they see and condemn the tenants’ diabolical injustice. They also recognize that Jesus is applying the parable to them: he is the Messiah and they have failed to welcome him. But they don’t repent. Here St Matthew is preparing us to recognize the true greatness of our Lord. Jesus will continue to explain, argue, exhort, and warn these men who refuse to believe in him. And they will continue to refuse. So then Jesus will put aside words and arguments and miracles. Instead, he will take up his cross. He will make a final assault on their entrenched hearts with the irresistible weapon of total love, total self-giving, total forgiveness. Jesus is the only Lord that conquers by surrender.

Matthew 21:33-46Christ the Teacher  In these few sentences, Jesus sums up the history of salvation, past, present, and future. The vineyard is the world, given to men by God for them to “cultivate and care for” (Genesis 2:15). The tenants are the leaders of God’s Chosen People. The owner is God himself. The servants and the son are the prophets and Christ himself. Sin is the tenants’ “wretchedness,” by which they rebel against the owner out of utter selfishness and greed. Could Jesus have given a clearer warning to these men? Could he have given a simpler explanation of his own identity and mission, a more understandable presentation to the Pharisees of the reality and consequences of their desires to kill him?

The parable applies just as easily to every man and woman. We are each given a vineyard: our own life. We are each given all the means necessary (the hedge, the tower, the wine press) to live that life in accordance with God’s plan for us. We are each given many, many chances to put our lives right with God, honoring him and loving him by living as he designed us to live. And each of us, in some way, has been introduced to the owner’s son, Jesus Christ. It seems from the Gospel texts that few chief priests and elders actually repented and accepted Christ’s message. It’s easy for us to deplore such hardheartedness, but before doing so, we should see what kind of fruit our own vineyards are producing, and how much our lives are giving glory to God instead of trying to steal glory for ourselves.

Christ the Friend The owner of the vineyard would have had every right to punish the tenants after they had done away with the first batch of servants. But he didn’t. He sent more, and more, and finally he sent his son. Only when we have made a definitive decision against him and held fast to that decision in the face of abundant gestures of his love will he let us have what we have wrongly chosen. Christ, the true friend, does not condemn those who refuse his friendship; they condemn themselves.

Jesus: I will never give up on you. If only you knew how much I love my Church, and every person in it. If only you knew how patient my Father is, how magnificently and unabashedly he loves each one of his children! Since I will never give up on you, you must never give up on yourself. No matter how many times you offend me, fail, or reject me, I am always ready and willing to renew our friendship. I am always taking the first step, moving you and inspiring you to come back to me.

Christ in My Life I pray for those who are far from you, for those who don’t recognize the hardness of their own hearts. Conquer them with your grace. Don’t let them perish, but grant them eternal life. All things are possible for you, Lord, so soften their hearts. Reach out to them through me. I too want to give my life for the salvation of others. For the sake of your sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world…

What are you saying to me that I am not hearing? What relationship do I need to reform? What responsibility am I neglecting? What mission am I ignoring? Lord, I know that following you will always require the painful steps of humility. Never let me take any other path. Never let me be separated from you…

Thank you for never giving up on me. Thank you for being so patient with me. Thank you for inspiring good desires in my heart. Lord, teach me to be truly humble, to place all my confidence in you, and to learn the secret of lasting joy. Make me a channel of your peace…

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art for this post on Matthew 21:33-46: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Amended detail of Parable of the Homicidal Vintners, Domencio Fetti, 1620 circa, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Spring Meditations”, “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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