A math teacher walked into the classroom one morning and she asked a five-year-old boy, “If you had five dollars and you asked your father for another five dollars, how much would you have?” The boy answered, “Five dollars.” The teacher shook her head and said, “You don’t know your math at all.” The little boy shook his head and said, “You don’t know my father at all.”
When a father looks straight into the eyes of his teenage son and asks, “Who is in charge here?” you know that there is trouble. When a teacher walks into the classroom and asks the students, “Who is in charge here?” it means there is trouble. Whenever the one who is obviously in charge comes up with the question, “Who is in charge here?” we can only guess right that it is not a question, but a reminder to the listeners that the one who is speaking is the one in charge.
The three parables that began last Sunday after the triumphal entry, and the cleansing of the Temple, are meant to ask and answer the question, “Who is in charge here?” Last Sunday, in the parable of the two sons who were asked by their father to go and work in the vineyard with one who said “no” and did “yes”, and the other who said “yes” and did “no,” Jesus wanted to remind the elders of the people and the chief priests that God and not they is the one truly in charge.
In today’s parable, the landlord who stands for God is the one in charge. The question of who is in charge came up when it was time for harvest. He sent his servants to collect his produce, but the tenants thought they were the ones in charge, and so they maltreated the servants: beat one, stoned one, and killed one. They gave same treatment to another set of servants, and finally when the landowner sent his son, the tenants made known their motives in the words, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.” By these words, it became very evident that they wanted to take over the ownership of the land. But according to G. K. Chesterton, “A man walking, comes to the edge of the cliff, and keeps walking, he will not break the law of gravity, he will prove it.” All the efforts of the tenants could not change the ownership of the land; they only ended up proving the right of the landowner and losing the little influence they had over the land.
In the first instance, the parable was meant to express the relationship between God and the people of Israel. The landowner stands for God, the tenants stand for the chief priests and the elders of the people, the servants stand for the prophets, the Son stands for Jesus Christ, and according to the responsorial psalm, “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” God, out of love, chose the children of Israel as his special people, and he entrusted them to the care of the chief priests and the elders of the people. When He sent prophets to the children of Israel to ensure that they were bearing good fruits, their leaders maltreated the prophets. Eventually, God sent His son, Jesus, whom they were already planning to kill. After Jesus told the parable, just like last Sunday, his listeners did not recognize themselves in the parable, and so they were very quick in passing judgment against themselves. Jesus then took it from there to inform them that since they failed to recognize who was in charge, the Kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to a people that will produce its fruit.
How is this parable relevant to us today? We have all received life from God as a special gift on trust, and it is our responsibility to bear good fruits with this life. The landowner’s preparation of the vineyard before leasing it out shows that before God entrusts a responsibility to us, he makes provision for all that we will need in carrying out the responsibility, that means “the will of God does not take us to where the grace of God cannot take care of us.” When the landowner leased the land out, he went away. This shows how much God trusts us. God does not police us or micro-manage us when he gives us responsibilities. Sending a second set of servants, shows how patient God is with us. He gives us a second chance when we fail; but in sending His Son, God shows that there is also the last chance when judgment is to be passed.
Since we have received all that we have on trust, we must use them for the good of all, to the glory of God, and bearing in mind that we are not the landowner. We begin to get into trouble when we decide to live our lives based on our own rules instead of the rules of the one who gave us life. Such attitudes as “I can do whatever I like with my life/body/talent/husband/wife/sibling/friend/the earth” etc. will only get us into trouble. Every morning, when I wake up, I say to myself, “Emmanuel, you are not in-charge,” and before I go to bed, I say to myself “Emmanuel, you were not in charge.” My dearly beloved in Christ, I say to you too, “Keep calm, you are not in charge.”