(Adults, the parable in this Sunday's Gospel is upsetting, to be followed by an even more upsetting one next week–yikes! This reflection acknowledges that the parable is upsetting, but encourages the children to reflect upon the ideal, on the Plan of God that is somewhat overshadowed by the behaviour of the tenants.)
In the Gospel reading this Sunday, Jesus continues to talk with the chief priests and elders in the Temple, the most holy place in Jerusalem. People come in and out of the Temple all day. They come to pray, but when Jesus visits, they come to listen to him, too.
Imagine if we heard that right now Jesus teaches in the Temple? We would run up the Temple steps and chase each other–if no adults stop and scold us–in and out of the inner courtyards until we find him. When we find Jesus, we would stop, panting and grinning. Jesus would turn and grin back at us. Then he might say to us, "I am about to tell a difficult parable to the adults here. There are some upsetting parts, and they will not like it. You still want to listen?" We would nod, of course. We do not want to go anywhere! "Okay then," he would say, "I want you to listen carefully to what the landowner does. I am going to ask you about his plan."
‘There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.’
The adults in the Temple begin to discuss the tenants' behaviour and what the landowner will do next. While they grumble and mutter, Jesus might turn back to us. "Did you hear what he does?" he would ask. "What is the landowner's plan?"
The landowner begins by planting a vineyard, so we know that he wants to grow grapes. He also digs a wine-press. A wine-press squeezes the grapes to get the juice so that people can make wine. We can answer Jesus, then, that the landowner's plan is to make wine!
In the Bible, wine is a sign of JOY. It is a sign of many blessings from God. What more, then, can we say about the plan of the landowner? Who could he be?
The landowner also puts a fence around the vineyard. What does this tell us? Why would he build a fence? He must want to keep the vineyard safe. A fence would keep out predators. It would keep out unwanted people–people wanting to steal the grapes or to destroy the vineyard. So we know that the landowner is a careful person. If he did not care about the vineyard, he would not have built a fence. We can say that the vineyard is important to him. The plan for wine–for JOY, for blessings–is important to the landowner.
The landowner leases the vineyard to tenants. He lets people into the vineyard. These are not unwanted people kept out by the fence. He lets them in and he gives them work. The landowner shares the plan with them. They will help grow the grapevines so that one day there will be so much wine, so much JOY.
How would the tenants feel to share in that plan for JOY?
The landowner leaves for another country. We do not know why, but we know that he leaves his important vineyard, his beloved plan, in the hands of the tenants. If he leaves them in charge of the work of caring for the vineyard, then what must he feel about them? He trusts them, does he not? He gives them a chance.
Actually, we hear him give them many chances. What does this say about the landowner? How forgiving is he?
The parable ends with what seems to be a disaster. The son of the landowner is killed. That forgiving landowner–the one with the plan for JOY, who carefully guards the plan, who shares the plan with people–his son dies. If we were in the Temple listening to Jesus, we might look at him somewhat reproachfully. We might feel a little disappointed in him. What kind of parable is this?
Jesus would turn from the murmuring adults and sit down with us. "You have discovered a lot about the landowner's plan," he might say, "but I think you forget one part."
The watch-tower? We have not thought about that yet.
Before the landowner leaves, he builds a watch-tower. The watch-tower must be for the tenants. Who are they to watch for? Not for people or predators because they already have the fence. If they have a watch-tower, does that mean the landowner will come back? He wants them to watch and wait for him. The careful forgiving landowner with his plan for JOY, he has not gone away for good, has he? Of course not! He will come because he cares about the vineyard, and his plan is for JOY–so much JOY–JOY for all!
Jesus would nod his head and ask us, "If you were the tenants, would you watch and wait for him?"
And as he always does, Jesus would open the scriptures. "These are kind of like a watch-tower," he might say. "Let's listen together to the Word of God."