Monday, June 1, 2009

He Send His Beloved Son, Thinking: They Will Respect My Son

The story of Tobit is situated set in Assyria, a land that which bears the same name today, and remains a focus of conflict between the people of Israel and the countries on their borders. The story of Tobit reminds us of another truth, not about nations but about neighbors. Truly generous and charitable people, who strive to love God will all their heart and mind and might, and to love their neighbors as God has loved them, are often ignored or mocked by the folks who live next door, or down the street. They are neighbors in the root meaning of that Anglo-Saxon word: those who dwell nearby; but they are anything but neighborly.

The parable that Jesus speaks to the chief priests, the scribes and the elders of Jerusalem moves us from city to countryside, but it remains a story of conflict, this time between the owner and the tenants to whom he had leased his vineyard while he was away. When harvest time came, he sent a servant to collect his share of the produce. They seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another, whom they beat about the head. Then he sent a third, whom they killed. Finally, he sent his son, whom he cherished, thinking, “They will respect my son.” But when the son arrived at the vineyard the tenants said, “This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the vineyard will be our inheritance.” So they seized him, killed him, and threw his body over the hedge. Jesus then asks a question, “What will the owner of the vineyard do when he returns?” And he answers his own question: “When he returns, he will have the tenants tried and executed for murder. Then he will give the vineyard to others. Jesus concludes with a passage from Isaiah, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful in our sight.” When they realized that Jesus’ parable was about them, they sought to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd. So they left him and went away.

The grapevine has always been a symbol of the people of Israel. Israel was the vine, the special focus of God’s care for all of humankind. (See Isaiah 5:2-7, which Jesus cited in the parable). Jesus identifies himself in John’s gospel as the true vine, and God’s people as the branches (John 15). But here, Jesus is identified not as the vine, but as the son and heir to the vineyard, Mark writes, “They seized him, killed him, and threw his body over the hedge.” Matthew’s version of the parable reverses the order, “They through him out of the vineyard and killed him” (21:29), as does Luke (20:15). They must have remembered not only the parable as Jesus told it, but the events of Jesus crucifixion: He was not stoned to death inside the city and his body thrown over the walls (although that was often a method of execution); Jesus was led out of the city to the hill of Calvary, and crucified there.

“They see Jesus in every detail, and every detail in Jesus!” ( Donagh O’Shea, S.J.)

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