In Matthew 21:33-43 our Lord preaches the parable of the Vineyard and the Wicked Tenants. As our parish priest pointed out in his homily this morning, this parable is ultimately about just how forgiving and patient God is.
The first verses of the parable make it clear that the parable is an allusion to Isa 5:1-7 where the Lord tells the nation of Israel that despite all He has done for them, they continue to reject Him and that this would lead to their desolation.
Jesus’ parable emphasises that God was indeed extremely long-suffering with the nation of Israel. Although they repeatedly broke God’s covenant through their idolatry and rejection of Him, God sent many prophets to shepherd them back to faithfulness (Matt 21:35-36). Yet they continued to reject God and His call of repentance.
This ongoing rejection finally culminated when the leaders of Israel conspired to have the Son of God crucified (vv37-39; Acts 2:22-23). There could be no greater rejection of God than wanting Him dead, and given this, God would have been completely justified in turning His back on all of humanity and leaving us to our own devices which would ultimately end in our own self-destruction. But thanks be to God – where sin abounded, God’s grace abounded even more!!!
In verse 41 we see that the Kingdom is taken away from the nation of Israel and given to those who will be faithful in bringing forth its fruit. Whilst it doesn’t appear so at first glance, this really is an act of God’s profound and unrestrained mercy – because God takes the Kingdom away from the nation of Israel and expands it to include all the nations (Gal 3:28). The beauty of the Kingdom of God is that it is not limited to one nation; rather it is global, it is universal, it is Catholic!
Another point to notice is that, by the way our Lord presents the parable, it is clear that this “new phase” of the Kingdom will never be reversed. We are continually reminded throughout the Scriptures that with the New Covenant God would also give His people the means to be faithful in keeping the covenant. Unlike Old Israel, who constantly stumbled and broke covenant with God, the Church – New Israel (Gal 6:16) – will remain faithful to God’s covenant forever (Jer 31:31-34). Unlike Israel of old, there isn’t any prophecy in all of Scripture which speaks of the Church ever breaking covenant with God. Instead, the Scriptures are emphatically clear that the Church will ALWAYS remain faithful. This is not because Christians are such wonderful people – it is because God has sent His Holy Spirit to lead and guide the Church into all truth (Jn 16:13).
This is one reason why we should never be ashamed of being Catholic. Despite all the attacks made against the Church by non-Catholics (Christian or otherwise), we can rest assured that the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that Jesus established on the Rock of St. Peter will always stand firm (Matt 16:18).
The Catholic Church is the new and faithful tenant of Jesus’ parable; and by God’s grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, she will always bring forth the fruits that God requires – the fruit of obedience which leads to eternal life.
One final point – coming back to the parable being about God’s unfathomable forgiveness...Whilst not explicitly stated by our Lord Jesus in this parable, God is not done with Old Israel. St. Paul tells us in Rom 11:31 that through the ministry of the Church God will show mercy to Israel and graft them back into the Vine of the Body of Christ.