If you’re familiar with the Aesop’s Fables, you’ll know the legend of The Dog with a Bone. In the legend, a greedy dog finds a bone, and in bid to enjoy it alone searches for a deserted place. His flight took him as far as a bridge over a stream, where he looks and sees his reflection and decides it’s another dog with a much fatter bone. Out of greed, he goes in pursuit of the “shadowy bone.” His own bone falls to the bottom of the river. Now, he has no bone.
Like Aesop’s greedy dog, the wicked tenants of today’s gospel out of greed lost their jobs and their lives. So modern society, too, in bid to drive God out of our lives, our families, our schools, our public squares, and to declare unlimited freedom to enjoy uninhibited pleasure, have rather succeeded in inflicting pain and hopelessness to our existence (e.g., anarchy in our streets). We, too, have lost our bone!
Today’s parable is among those called “juridical parables” in which a prophet tells a story intended to make the hearer(s) draw judgment unto themselves. Prophet Nathan used it in his encounter with David after his affair with Uriah’s wife. David unknowingly drew judgment upon himself about his adultery and murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 12). The response by Jesus’ hearers to the enquiry asking their opinion about the proper measure to be taken by the owner of the vineyard in response to the wicked tenants, drew from them, in their own words, their own condemnation. Their answer that the evil tenants will be put to death and the vineyard leased to other tenants who will responsibly deliver the produce applies to them and to all who are reckless with God’s gracious gifts.
Today’s readings tell us that judgment is inevitable. Isaiah’s prophesy about the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts applies as much to Israel as to the Church. Reechoing this image of the Church, Vatican II calls the Church “a cultivated field… the tillage of God.” Yes, the world wants to play God. But so also are some Christians who use religion to bolster their ego and for monetary gain. As religion turns into big business with celebrity evangelists milking their flock out of every cent to maintain a life of luxury, the Lord’s vineyard is dramatically turned into a den of thieves. Our own Church is not spared; new ideas which seek various compromises with error and emphasize only a part of the truth continue to force their way in. In search of a Christ of their own making, the new teachers adopt an aggressive, ‘Alinskynesque’ political theology that emphasizes mercy without conversion, love without responsibility, and inclusion without structure: all aimed, not only at tolerance of evil, but its total vindication.
But the true gospel land, the vineyard of the Lord, is an upside-down world where the lowly are the strong, the impoverished are the exalted, integrity, kindness and compassion are supreme virtues. It is a topsy-turvy world where the powerless are brought to the table while the mighty tarry in a wasteland. As the pride of life, of power and pleasure seeks to wreak the Christ-principle within us, the words of St. Paul in the second reading—that we insist on whatever is pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil 4:8)—should be strongly reaffirmed.