There is nothing like a good story to make a point. Jesus relied on His stories (parables) to teach His listeners. He could have simply declared a teaching but when He taught by way of parables, the lesson stuck. Today’s Gospel is no different. Again Jesus is speaking to the leaders of the people. He tells them a story about a landowner who has rented his vineyard to tenant farmers. The story is reminiscent of the first reading from the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah lived many centuries before Jesus but he too compared God’s care of His people to a farmer’s (God) care of a vineyard.
Yet the vineyard (Israel) proved unresponsive to God’s care. The result is disaster.
Using a similar motif, Jesus describes how the landlord sends his agents to collect his share of the harvest. Some of his servants are beaten and maltreated by the tenants. Others are killed. Finally the landlord sends his own son, thinking that the tenants will respect the young man. Illogically the tenants believe that if they kill the son, they will inherit the vineyard. Often Our Lord used hyperbole (exaggeration) to make a point. What father, after seeing the mistreatment of his servants, would expose his son to the same danger? Like modern inheritance laws, the death of the son, would in no way guarantee that the tenants acquire the vineyard. Similar to today’s inheritance laws, the land would go to the next of kin or to someone designated by the owner. Of course Jesus knew this too but He exaggerates the story to boldly illuminate its message.
The vineyard owner is God the Father. Periodically God sent His messengers, the prophets, in order to teach, cajole or warn His people. Most of the prophets faced mistreatment or even death. Finally the Father sends His Son, Who is of course Jesus Himself. The Son too is ignored, mistreated and ultimately killed. The question arises: What will the owner of the vineyard do? The temple priests and elders answer the question: there will be dire consequences. They have indicted themselves by rejecting the Son. Jesus concludes His remarks with a quote from Psalm #118 with regard to a cornerstone. Jesus connects the murdered son with the cornerstone. The stone that was rejected (the murdered son) becomes the cornerstone (the essential foundation stone) of a new edifice! That edifice will contain many people who will bear good fruit.
Though not included in today’s Gospel excerpt, immediately after these remarks, the leaders realize that the parable has been directed at them and they resolve to arrest Jesus but do not do so for fear of the crowds, who believed Jesus to be a prophet. It is these common ordinary folk, often disdained by the leadership, who will constitute the initial Christian community.
The whole point of the parable seems to be that the most important aspect of this new edifice or vineyard (the kingdom) founded by the Son, is that it bear fruit. That fruit must be modeled on the life of Jesus , Who lived for others. In so far as our words and actions are modeled on His then we are bearing fruit for the kingdom and we will enjoy its harvest.