“What could I have done with my vineyards that I have not done?”
The Gospel Reading of this Sunday (Matthew 21: 33-43) follows immediately from where we stopped last Sunday. Jesus is still addressing “the chief priests and the elders of the people” using allegories and metaphors in parables to point out their failings and omissions against God. The parable today is a reminder of God’s love, care and patience for Israel, His Chosen One, on the one hand and of the unfaithfulness, fruitless and disappointing behaviour Israel on the other. This parable was not difficult for Jesus’ listeners to understand because, as devout Jews, they must have been aware of the image of Israel as “the vineyard of the Lord of hosts” as recorded in the Book of Isaiah, which is our First Reading (Isaiah 5: 1-7) today as well. So the owner of the vineyard is God; the vineyard is Israel in the parable; the cultivators are the leaders of the people, “the chief priests and the elders of the people”; the messengers are the prophets of God (the early and the later prophets); and of course, the son is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who would be rejected and crucified by the elders, the Scribes, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin.
The first point of this parable therefore addresses the care, love, protection, and provision of God for the people of Israel, and the ungrateful attitudes of rejections and abuses of God’s prophets and their final killing of the only Begotten Son of God. This causes God’s deep and painful lamentation in the First Reading: “What could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done? I expected it to yield grapes. Why did it yield sour grapes instead?”
As the New Israel, this parable has many lessons for us today:
- It teaches how much God trusts us: like the owner of the vineyard who entrusted the entire estate to the servants without any supervision, so God entrusts us with His work, even with such sacred and noble works as being priests and parents respectively.
- It teaches God’s patience with us: like the owner of the vineyard who never got angry with the servants at the first or the second abuses of his messengers but kept sending more until he sent his son, so is God patient with us when we sin against Him. He bears with us and continues to give us chances without number to see if we will change.
- It also tells us about God’s judgement: like the master of the vineyard, who finally decided to strip the servants of the right to cultivate the vineyard and gave the work to others, so too a times comes when God decides to judge us by our actions and inactions after we have failed to make the best use of the opportunities. St. Peter cautions: “Do not mistake the Lord’s patience for forgetfulness, for it is an opportunity for us to repent.”
The parable equally reveals the abuses on the part of man – the abuse of freedom and the abuse of privileges. When we consider the privileges of our creation in “the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1: 26), the love and the goodness of God towards us what fruits have we produced? What kind of stewards are we? In what ways are we better than the cultivators of the vineyard in the parable? Have we lived up to God’s expectations? May God, grant us the grace to bear good fruits.