The Lord compares the house of Israel to a vineyard.
The Lord protects his vineyard, the house of Israel.
Paul encourages the Philippians to stay faithful to the teaching they received from him.
Jesus tells the parable about the wicked tenants.
Background on the Gospel Reading
Today's Gospel follows directly after last Sunday's Gospel in which Jesus was questioned by Jewish religious leaders about the source of his teaching authority. After refusing to answer their questions, Jesus tells the parable of the two sons and then criticizes the priests and elders for their lack of belief in John the Baptist.
In today's Gospel, Jesus once again speaks to the priests and elders with a parable. In this parable, the landowner leases his vineyard to tenants and sends his servants to collect the portion of the harvest that the tenants owe to him. Several times the servants are sent to collect payment, and each time they are beaten and killed by the tenants. Finally, the landowner sends his son to collect his rent. The tenants, believing that they will inherit the vineyard if the landowner dies without an heir, plot together and kill the landowner's son.
After telling the parable, Jesus questions the chief priests and elders about what the landowner will do to the wicked tenants. They all agree that the landowner will kill the wicked tenants and give the land to new tenants who will pay the rent.
In telling the parable, Jesus is clearly drawing upon Isaiah 5:1-7, which is today's first reading and one that the priests and elders would have known well. Jesus doesn't, therefore, have to explain the symbolism of the parable; the Pharisees would have understood that the vineyard represented Israel, the landowner represented God, the servants represented the prophets, and the bad tenants represented the religious leaders. Yet Jesus nonetheless explains the meaning of the parable for his audience: the Kingdom of God will be taken from the unbelieving and given to the faithful. The chief priests and elders have condemned themselves with their answer to Jesus' question.
Today's Gospel has a parallel in Mark 12:1-12. There are some notable differences, however. In Matthew's version, the religious leaders condemn themselves; in Mark's Gospel, Jesus answers his own question. Matthew names the religious leaders as Pharisees and chief priests. Clearly this Gospel shows the tension that was mounting between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders who thought that his message was dangerous. Matthew's Gospel was written about 70 years after Jesus' death and reflects the conflicts and tensions found in the Christian community for whom Matthew was writing. Many biblical scholars believe that the tension between Matthew's community and their Jewish neighbors can also be heard in today's reading.
This Gospel reminds us of the importance of listening to God's word. God speaks to us in many ways—through Scripture, through our Church tradition, in our Church's teaching, and through modern-day prophets. Are we attentive and receptive to God's word to us through these messengers?