Friday, March 5, 2010

Gratitude (Friday, 2nd Week of Lent, Mt. 21:33-43)

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “Hear another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey. When vintage time drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?” They answered him, He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times.” Jesus said to them, Did you never read in the Scriptures:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
by the Lord has this been done,
and it is wonderful in our eyes?

* * * * * * * *

The parable of the tenants who killed the vineyard-owner’s son, is the story of Jesus and the lack of acceptance that he experienced among his very own people. When the early Christian community found itself persecuted and thrown out of the Jewish synagogues, they sought to find an explanation in the life of Jesus who was himself rejected by the very people he had been sent to redeem. And if it happened to Jesus, it would surely happen to his followers.

But more than that, the parable of the tenants is a story of missed opportunities, betrayal of trust, and ingratitude in the face of the vineyard-owners overwhelming generosity. The owner is God of course, who in his kindness had given everything his people needed in order to produce much from the land over which he had made them stewards. The tenants are the people of Israel, who failed to live up to their end of the bargain, and instead decided to beat up and kill not only the owner’s servants, but his very own son. This is how God gets repaid for his kindness.

We too can be quite ungrateful at times. When we fail to give God thanks for the many gifts he has given us, when we fail to respond to his invitation to live good and honest lives, when we fail to recognize in our neighbors, especially those in need, the very person of Jesus his Son, we show a tremendous lack of gratitude, just like the tenants in our parable.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)