What the Gospel tells us about injustice and guilt
A Reflection for Friday of the Second Week of Lent
You can find today’s readings here.
Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. (Mt 21:43)
Today we hear the parable of the wicked tenants, a group of people who were hired to work a vineyard and produce wine. But instead of fulfilling their obligations, they intimidate, beat and kill the landowners’ servants, and even his son, to keep the harvest and the land for themselves.
When we read parables like this, it’s important to read it in the context of what’s unfolding in the Gospel. The real story is not about the wicked tenants, but the interaction between Jesus and the people to whom he is relating the parable. Jesus concludes the parable by posing a question to his audience: “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”
The crowd answers, “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.”
Today’s Gospel reveals something profound about our nature: Human beings easily recognize blatant injustice when it’s presented to us, so long as it’s detached from us (as Jesus’ listeners did).
Then, quoting the Scriptures, Jesus turns the story on his listeners, saying, “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” We’re told the chief priests and the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the community, know that he is speaking about them.
We often think of Jesus’ parables as stories rich in spiritual allegory that perhaps vaguely apply to our lives today. And that’s true. But by focusing on the story in the parable itself, I think we sometimes miss the direct conflict unfolding in the Gospel. At times, it may be more appropriate to recognize what the chief priests and the Pharisees recognized: that Jesus is speaking about us.
Do I have selfish motives? Do I look out for my own well-being at the expense of others? Do I live my life doing whatever I can to get ahead, to get rich, to get comfortable for convenience' sake irrespective of others and creation? These are not rhetorical questions. Let’s stop for a moment and check the motives in our lives.
Today’s Gospel reveals something profound about our nature: Human beings easily recognize blatant injustice when it’s presented to us, so long as it’s detached from us (as Jesus’ listeners did). But when our own guilt becomes clear, we react defensively and even violently. We shouldn’t be afraid to sit and grapple with that inconsistency today and throughout Lent.