Today’s Gospel reading provides the parable of the wicked tenants. The tenants in this story could just as easily be from a modern horror novel or movie as they are from the pages of Scripture. In fact, I’m willing to guess there have indeed been group character sketches based on this passage, either in whole or part. Off the top, I’m thinking about Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, or The Wicker Man. The themes are similar. Something especially sinister happens where the wickedness of the hole is greater than the sum of the parts. What is even more troubling is that these tenants, even those we read about in novels, can be us. We should not think we are beyond the temptations that such scenarios present.
How quickly man loses rectitude when he forgets his Creator. Like the tenants in the parable, it is striking how we like to appropriate what is not ours. We like to put ourselves in the place of God. The tenants decide the vineyard should just be theirs. After all, the owner is not even around. “We are the ones working it,” they think. They wrongly perceive the patience of the owner as negligence or apathy, because they are biased toward that conclusion. Then, they rationalize away the owner’s servants. Brutalizing them, they try to send a message to the owner. “This is ours now!” Imagine the conversations happening in and around the vineyard. “We are free to keep all the fruit of our labor,” “the owner never cared anyway,” “the owner never even bothered to come here himself, if he would have cared then he would have come here and worked it with us.” The rationalizations are endless. My guess is that the tenants would have destroyed themselves very if the owner had not taken vengeance. The vineyard would have become a dystopian wasteland plagued by famine and crime. This is the same state our world would be in, if it even was at all, without the continual, pervading grace of God.
We are meant to see from this parable how destructive sin can be. Sin can warp our minds in such a way that we lose sight of what is plainly in front of us. Like the tenants, we burn away the prophetic message until our consciences are so seared that we think murder is justice, slavery is freedom, and rocks are good to eat for their mineral content. When we try to supplant the Creator, we cut ourselves off from the very source of life. When we think we know better than God, we start to become wicked tenants. The ensuing disorder brings nothing but chaos and destruction. God brought the universe into existence in a cosmic order, and the order will one day be restored. And the restoration of cosmic order will be painful for those who continue to push back along the edges that are being brought back into alignment.