Lectio Divina: Matthew 21:33-43.45-46
Season of Lent
1) Opening prayer
God, we do not want to die;
we want to live.
We want to be happy
but without paying the price.
We belong to our times,
when sacrifice and suffering are out of fashion.
God, make our life worth living.
Give us back the age-old realization,
that life means to be born
again and again in pain,
that it may become again
a journey of hope to You,
together with Christ Jesus, our Lord.
2) Gospel reading - Matthew 21:33-43,45-46
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, AHe 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, ADid 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? 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." When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they knew that he was speaking about them. And although they were attempting to arrest him, they feared the crowds, for they regarded him as a prophet.
• The text of today’s Gospel forms part of a greater whole which includes Mathew 21:23-40. The chief priests and the elders had asked Jesus by what authority He did those things (Mt 21:23). They considered themselves the custodians of everything and they did not want anybody to do things without their permission. Jesus’ answer is divided into three parts: 1) He, in turn, asks them a question because He wants to know, in their opinion, if John the Baptist was from heaven or from earth (Mt 21:24-27); 2) He then tells them the parable of the two sons (Mt 21:28-32); 3) He tells them the parable of the vineyard (Mt 21:33-46), which is today’s Gospel.
• Matthew 21:33-40: The parable of the vineyard. Jesus begins as follows: “Listen to another parable: There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard, he fenced it around, dug a winepress in it and built a tower.” The parable is a beautiful summary of the history of Israel, taken from the prophet Isaiah (Is 5:1-7). Jesus addresses Himself to the chief priests, to the elders (Mt 21:23) and to the Pharisees (Mt 21:45) and He gives a response to the question which they addressed to Him about the origin of His authority (Mt 21:23). Through this parable, Jesus clarifies several things: (a) He reveals the origin of His authority: He is the Son, the heir; (b) He denounces the abuse of the authority of the tenants, that is of the priests and elders who were not concerned and did not take care of the people of God; (c) He defends the authority of the prophets, sent by God, but who were killed by the priests and the elders; (d) He unmasks the authority by which they manipulate the religion and kill the Son, because they do not want to lose the source of income which they have accumulated for themselves throughout the centuries.
• Matthew 21:41: The sentence which they give to themselves. At the end of the parable Jesus asks: “Now, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They are not aware that the parable was speaking precisely of them. This is why, with the response that they give, they decree their own condemnation: “The chief priests and the elders of the people answered: ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him at the proper time’.” Several times Jesus uses this same method. He leads the person to tell the truth about himself, without knowing that he is condemning himself. For example, in the case of the Pharisee who condemns the young woman, considering her a sinner (Luke 7:42-43), and in the case of the parable of the two sons (Mt 21:28-32).
• Matthew 21:42-46: The sentence given by themselves was confirmed by their behavior. From the clarification given by Jesus, the chief priests, the elders and the Pharisees understand that the parable is about them, but they do not convert. Rather, they keep to their own plan to kill Jesus. They will reject “the cornerstone.” But they do not have the courage to do it openly because they fear the reaction of the people.
• The diverse groups which held the power at the time of Jesus. In today’s Gospel three groups appear, which, at that time, governed: the priests, the elders and the Pharisees. Then, some brief information on the power which each of these groups and others had is given:
a) The priests: They were the ones in charge of the worship in the Temple. The people paid the Temple a tithe and other taxes and offerings. The High Priest occupied a very important place in the life of the nation, especially after the exile. He was chosen and appointed from among the three or four aristocratic families who possessed more power and riches.
b) The elders or the Chief Priests of the People: They were the local leaders in the different villages of the city. Their origin came from the heads of the ancient tribes.
c) The Sadducees: they were the lay aristocratic elite of society who wanted to maintain a priestly caste. Many of them were rich merchants or landlords. From the religious point of view they were liberal in their willingness to incorporate Hellenism into their lives. They did not accept the changes supported by the Pharisees, for example, faith in the resurrection and the existence of angels.
d) The Pharisees: Pharisee means “separated.” They believed in the Oral Law handed down from Moses and that through the perfect observance of the Law of purity, people would succeed in being pure, separated and holy as the Law and Tradition demanded! Because of the exemplary witness of their life according to the norms of the time, their moral authority was widespread in the villages of Galilee.
e) Scribe or doctor of the Law: They were the ones in charge of teaching. They dedicated their life to the study of the Law of God and taught people what to do to observe all the Law of God. Not all the Scribes belonged to the same line. Some were united with the Pharisees, others with the Sadducees.
4) Personal questions
• Have you sometimes felt that you were unduly controlled or misunderstood? What was your reaction? Was it the same as that of Jesus?
• If Jesus returned today and told us the same parable, would it be as relevant? What would the reaction be from society and on a personal level?
5) Concluding prayer
As far as heaven is above the earth,
so strong is the faithful love of the Lord for those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far from us does He put our faults. (Ps 103:11-12)