Matthew, and the other Evangelists as well, sprinkles clues to Jesus’ identity throughout his Gospel. If we don’t watch carefully we can miss them. A good example is found in the parable of the property owner who leased his vineyard out to tenants (Mt 21:33-43). This parable easily reflects today’s first reading, about the friend of Isaiah, who planted and cared for a vineyard, expecting grapes, but received only wild grapes (Is 5:1-7).
In Jesus’ parable, the property owner sent his servants to collect his share of grapes. The tenants abused the servants and even killed some of them. Finally the owner sent his son, thinking that they would respect him. Instead, they dragged the son outside the vineyard and killed him. Jesus’ listeners did not miss what we may overlook; Jesus is the “son.” In fact, Matthew tells us that, as He spoke, the leaders wanted to arrest Him but feared the crowd.
Initially, when the tenants mistreated and killed his servants, God did not stop reaching out. St. Thomas says that the Lord wished “to fight their malice with His mercy.”
The owner finally sent “his son.” Thomas recalls the opening words of the Letter to the Hebrews: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, He spoke to us through a Son, whom He made heir of all things…” (Heb 1:1-2).
Jesus declares that He is the “cornerstone, rejected by the people … who has become the head” (cf. Ps 117:22). Thomas notes that, “Christ is the stone… the rock” that has been rejected but is the cornerstone, the head of the Church.
Thomas considers the dignity that was lost in not accepting Jesus, “such was the dignity which was only possible by grace of God.” Thomas recalls the Letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Eph 2:8).
Thomas declares that those who reject Jesus lose their understanding of Scripture: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, that they should not see with their eyes nor understand with their hearts…” (Jn 12:40).
The parable has a historical significance in the rejection of Jesus by the leaders in His own time, but the story can also be applied to ourselves as well. We also are the tenants to whom God has given good vineyards. St. Thomas Aquinas picks up on the fact that the owner has gone on a journey. According to Thomas, God hasn’t changed His place but God has given humans free will.
What are the grapes that God wants? Thomas explains that we should bring the grapes to the wine press, meaning “everything we do should be for God’s praise,” to produce “the wine of charity.”
As we go about our lives, we may forget that we are tenants in this world that has been so wonderfully made by God. We only have the vineyard for a certain amount of time. God sends us messengers who invite us to offer whatever we do to the praise of God, and let God transform our self-giving into the wine of charity. Even when we do not listen, God sends us His Son. We may not realize that He is our cornerstone, who gives love and meaning to our lives and, in that way, holds them together. If we reject Him, we no longer understand the meaning of Scripture.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.,
References to Thomas Aquinas are taken from Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, trans. Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., found on dhspriory.org/thomas