Perspective on the Pandemic through the Lens of the Vineyard Tales Tradition
God gives us two gifts: the wonder of His creation around us and His perfect law which revives our souls and grants us wisdom.
I’ve just given a homily on Matthew 21:33-46, that portion of the Gospel in which Jesus tells a vineyard parable. He is telling this parable, perhaps from the ancient Jewish tradition which has been called Vineyard Tales. After being confronted by the chief priests and the elders, Jesus was asked to justify His authority. You will recall Jesus was constantly confronting those in authority. He proceeds to tell the story of a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. To make a long story short, the landlord’s son had gone to collect what was due to his father and was killed by the tenants. Jesus then told them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produce the fruits of the kingdom.”
When the chief priests and the elders heard this parable, they realized Jesus was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him but they feared the crowds because they regarded him as a prophet.
Commentators tell us that Vineyard Tales are always about repentance. The original word for repentance in Greek is metanoia which means to turn around or to change your mind. When Jesus told the parable of the vineyard owner and the tenants, he was offering a life-giving alternative, a turn around to his audience’s suggestion the landowner should annihilate the wicked. Long story short, Jesus in this Gospel story, within which the vineyard parable is placed, is giving us two gifts in addition to our freedom to choose or reject metanoia. One, that we would see the power and wonder of God’s creative work all around us, even beyond the vineyard. Two, that we are given the Law, as cited in Psalm 19:7, “The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.” These two gifts can help us change our minds.
Many Commentators have opined that Jesus’ parable of the Vineyard in Matthew’s Gospel is a clear reference to Isaiah Chapter 5, The Song of the Unfruitful Vineyard. These two Vineyard Tales are set up the same. We have a vineyard, complete with a fence and a tower. In Isaiah, the vineyard has been properly cared for but it has produced wild grapes. The vineyard, Isaiah explains, represents Israel and soon it will be overtaken by foreigners. This judgment, as Isaiah says, is because Yahweh (God) is probably looking for justice but found only bloodshed; for righteousness but only heard crying. So, it is justice and righteousness with which we place ourselves in this Vineyard. This takes courage.
In Matthew’s Vineyard Tale, Jesus was warning his critics that the time was short for them to come around to collaborate with what God was offering through Him. In this time of our COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps we can become anxiously frustrated at how short time is. But I think if we take this parable to heart, we can become courageous to confront all the injustices and unrighteousness that is sprouting up around us, as we live in this Vineyard, which is the Lord’s.
Today, as we ponder this particular reference of the Vineyard Tales, we are confronted, perhaps with the chief priests and elders of our time. If we are honest, we will know that we are given two great gifts: the power and wonder of God and His Law. These gifts, as we go through our now Pandemic Vineyard of life, is how we will know God is on our side. Ultimately our courage will be nourished by our knowledge and understanding the vineyard belongs to God, and perfectly so, within which is the strong and sturdy cornerstone of our lives. We will then courageously enjoy a fruitful harvest, with justice and righteousness.
John A. Hau‘oli Tomoso† is a Priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Hawai‘i and a retired Social Worker, with 42 years of licensed practice. Born and raised on Maui, he lives in Kahului with his wife Susan D. Tomoso, who is a retired Educator with 30 years of teaching experience.