09 March 2007

OUCH!


Friday in the 2nd Week of Lent
Mt 21:33-43, 45-46

A good Jew knows the Hebrew Bible from cover to cover. They study it from childhood! They even memorize key passages from it. Thus, when the chief priests and the elders heard even just the opening lines of Jesus’ parable today, they surely remembered one of the famous passages from Is 5:1-7 that compares the Israelites to a beautiful vineyard. In that passage, Isaiah gives an analogy: God owns a beautiful vineyard that Israel. Before He builds the watchtower and the wine press, He first cleared it and planted it with grapes. At harvest time, however, the vineyard yields only wild and bitter grapes. By this analogy, Isaiah denounces his fellow Israelites and warns them of God’s wrath.

Today’s parable, however, does not follow Isaiah’s analogy exactly. While God is still the owner of the vineyard and the vineyard still stands for the Israelites, it is not the vineyard that fails God this time, but the tenants of the vineyard. The tenants, to whom God entrusted His vineyard, are the leaders of Israel, the chief priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the elders of the people. We can just imagine the tension brewing as Jesus gives His lecture today. Matthew is keen in informing us that some of those leaders are actually among the listeners of Jesus. But Jesus speaks the truth about those leaders and His words today fall upon them like a long awaited indictment.

The truth hurts but only the truth will set us free. If we were those leaders of the Israelites, how would we feel about this open but honest criticism of Jesus today? How would we react? Would we strike our breast and repent of our ways unbecoming of a leader of God’s People? Or would we find fault at Jesus and plan a way to silence Him? We know what the listeners of Jesus did. They retaliated: the chief priests and the elders of the people put Jesus to death by allowing Him to be crucified by the Romans while the rest were either indifferent or driftwoods.

Each of us is a leader in one way or another. What kind of a leader are we? How does the parable of Jesus today sound to us – a mere food for thought or a long awaited indictment?

Lent is a special time for us to look at our selves honestly. Where repentance and conversion are needed, let there be repentance and conversion. Where amending ways and repair are called for, let there be amendment and repair. Where truth beckons us to freedom, let us run unto freedom, bravely but humbly meeting all the arrows that hurt but truly set us free.

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