Gospel reading: Matthew 21:33-46; Psalm: Psalm 80
“When the chief priests and Pharisees heard his parables, they realised that he was speaking about them.” (Matthew 21:45)
Jesus’ parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-46 takes up Isaiah 5:1-7, where the people of Israel are called God’s vineyard. Isaiah tells of a man who has worked hard to grow a vineyard, clearing the scrubland and planting top quality vines, but ends up harvesting only sour grapes. Angry and frustrated he decides to destroy the vineyard. Isaiah warns that Israel is under threat of destruction, by its outside enemies but also from within, by its corrupt leaders, who bend and break the law and create an unjust society.
Jesus retells Isaiah’s parable for his own time: God, the creator and owner of the vineyard, put Israel’s leaders in charge to take care of it. But they don’t. When God sends his servants, that is the prophets, and finally even his own son, to hold them to account, they kill them. The high priests and Pharisees know who Jesus is referring to. They recognise the Isaiah reference. They know that as leaders they are called to protect the law. They know that they are corrupt but they
hate being reminded of it.
I recently read two things which reminded me of this parable. The first is by the novelist Margaret Atwood, who writes: “When you speak truth to power, make sure that it is the truth.” The second is by the playwright Robert Bolt. In his play, “A Man for all Seasons,” the protagonist, Sir Thomas More, says about his homeland: “This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast and if
you cut them down, you think you could really stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”
Sir Thomas was referring to Henry VIII’s habit of tearing up laws that did not work in his favour and jailing and executing those who dared to disagree. In light of today’s Gospel Sir Thomas did indeed speak truth to power. Recently a Member of Parliament cited the same phrase to remind political leaders today that they are misguided in their openly stated intention to break the law. I pray for leaders who recognise that if they bend and break the law they cause injustice to many and risk bringing about the destruction of their country.
By Josef Lossl.