The chief priests and the Pharisees realized that Jesus was referring to them in this “Parable of the Wicked Tenants” (Cfr. Mt 12: 33-43; 45-46). They wanted to arrest Him there and then. But they were afraid of the crowd who regarded Jesus as a prophet. By contrast, we can immediately learn from this reaction of the Jewish authorities a very important lesson: when someone points out to us our faults, evil deeds or mistakes, we should accept it with humility and strive to change for the better.
But what do the Jewish authorities understood in the parable? They knew that our Lord compared Israel to a choice vineyard. The landowner was God, who entrusted the vineyard to its tenants, the religious and political leaders of Israel. The chief priests, the Pharisees and the elders, therefore, had the responsibility to produce the expected fruits of faith and good works. They were accountable to the landowner who sent his servants from time to time to collect the fruit. This was the mission of the prophets. But the prophets sent by God were ill-treated and even murdered.
Finally, the landowner sent his son thinking that the tenants would spare Him. But the son was also murdered by those who wanted to keep the inheritance and become owners themselves. Then, “they cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him”: a clear reference to Christ’s crucifixion, which took place outside the walls of Jerusalem. Those whom God expects to be faithful stewards of His gifts have become God’s own murderers, maliciously motivated by the ambition to become owners. We are all stewards of God’s gifts. Our apostolates are God’s vineyards entrusted to us. May we learn to behave as authentic stewards of the mission God has given us and reject any pretension or desire to become owners.
Jesus prophesied the punishment of the wicked tenants and that God’s vineyard – the new Israel – would be given to the gentiles. This is a very significant prophecy, which became a reality when St. Peter became the first Pope, the first Bishop of Rome, a gentile nation. The Catholic Church, founded by Christ Himself and is entrusted to St. Peter and his successors, is built on the cornerstone: Jesus, “the stone which the builders rejected”.
The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI which took effect at 2:00 A. M. today (March 1, Philippine time; Feb 28, 8PM in Italy) is a living sign of this truth: that the Church rests on its cornerstone – Jesus Christ – and not on the Holy Pontiff. His Holiness, the Roman Pontiff Emeritus, simply witnessed to the truth that the Papacy is simply stewardship, not ownership. He saw that the time has come for a younger and a stronger tenant, who could yield the fruit necessary especially in these very trying times, to take the lead for the good of God’s vineyard. Docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and out of humility and his great love for the Church, the Bishop Emeritus of Rome decided to serve the Bride of Christ in another way – through prayers and sacrifices in the silence of his retirement abode. What a lesson of humility and docility to God’s will!
Catholics in all ages should see in this historical event, in the light of the Parable of Wicked Tenants, the exhortation of Jesus for us to be faithful stewards of our respective parcel of God’s vineyards. Through faith and good works, let us carry out our apostolate and mission with awareness that our cornerstone is Christ and that we are not indispensable. Let us not fall into the mistake of the Jewish generation in the parable.
As we are on the sede vacante, we should be filled with hope and a sense of security that, despite the difficult moments the Church is facing today – by the way, the Cardinals starting today receive a briefing on the situation of the Church in the world – the Catholic Church is built upon a solid rock: Jesus Christ. In the end, the Church will surely come out triumphant, with God’s grace. As our Lord promised: “Not even the gates of hell could overcome God’s Kingdom on earth”.
We commend ourselves and the whole Church to the maternal care of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of All Christians. Amen.