Proper fruit 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Mt 21:33-43
33 “Listen to another parable,” Jesus said. “There was once a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a hole for the wine press, and built a watchtower. Then he let out the vineyard to tenants and went on a journey. 34 When the time came to gather the grapes, he sent his slaves to the tenants to receive his share of the harvest. 35 The tenants seized his slaves, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again the man sent other slaves, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.
So Jesus said to them, “I tell you: the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you. 37 Last of all he sent his son to them. ‘Surely they will respect my son,’ he said. 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the owner’s son. Come on, let’s kill him, and we will get his property!’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” Jesus asked. 41 “He will certainly kill those evil men,” they answered, “and let the vineyard out to other tenants, who will give him his share of the harvest at the right time.”
So Jesus said to them, “I tell you: the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you. 42 Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what the Scriptures say? ‘The stone which the builders rejected as worthless turned out to be the most important of all. This was done by the Lord; what a wonderful sight it is!’ 43 And so I tell you,” added Jesus, “the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce the proper fruits.”
Other readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:8, 11-15, 18-19; Philippians 4:6-9
We are in the days between Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his Crucifixion. Jesus tells this parable while he is teaching in the temple.
The metaphor of God’s people, Israel, being a vineyard would have been familiar to Jesus’s listeners. The parallels with today’s liturgy reading from Isaiah 5:1-7 are particularly striking. God lovingly plants the vineyard and expects it to bear fruit, but all it produces is sour grapes. Isaiah was one of the many prophets God sent to warn the people to repent and return to God or face judgment.
Jesus makes the meaning of this parable even more explicit and makes some significant additions. The vineyard is entrusted to the care of tenants. When harvest time comes the owner sends his slaves to collect his share. The tenants take no notice of the slaves, beat some and kill others. Finally, the owner sends his son in the hope that they will at least show him respect. But the tenants kill the son too, thinking they will now be able to claim the vineyard for themselves.
Before revealing the meaning of the parable, Jesus asks the people what the owner should do with the tenants. Without realising that they are passing judgment on themselves, the people reply: “Let the vineyard out to other tenants” (verse 41).
Having got the people incensed at the tenants’ behaviour, Jesus reveals the sting in the tail: they are the tenants (verse 43). They will receive the sentence that they passed themselves. The vineyard (kingdom of God) will be given to “a people who will produce the proper fruits”.
The most significant addition that Jesus makes is to identify himself as the owner’s son. He does so indirectly by quoting from Psalm 118. This is another opportunity for the Jewish leaders to repent, but they refuse and will go on to fulfil the parable literally by insisting that Jesus be put to death.
This parable was told as a warning to the Jewish leaders, but what lessons can we learn from it for our lives today?
Consider the significance of Psalm 118: 22-23. In rejecting Jesus, the Jewish leaders rejected their most important prophet. They rejected God’s Son and their Messiah and saviour. Are we in danger of rejecting Jesus’s authority in our lives?
What is the “proper fruit” that Jesus expects from his followers today?
What can we learn from Isaiah 5:7 about the sort of behaviour God expects from his people?
Respond to God in prayer. Ask God to show you how to live a life that bears more fruit for him.
Meditate on Jesus the cornerstone, the most important stone of all. Is he the cornerstone of your life? Does he have the place of greatest honour?
Lectio Divina is an ancient tradition of reading and engaging with God’s Word
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