domenica 8 ottobre 2017

«Hic factus est in caput anguli»

Jesus is still in the temple, arguing with the chief priests and the elders of the people. He tells the second of the three polemical parables against them. We heard the first one (the Two Sons) last week; we will read the third one (the Wedding Feast) on next Sunday.

The parable of the tenants is the third parable we read in three weeks about a vineyard. Today’s liturgy shows us that it was a common metaphor, often used in the old testament. We have found it in the first reading and in the responsorial psalm. And we have finally understood the meaning of this image in the Bible: “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.” Certainly, when Jesus talks of a vineyard in his parables, he is thinking of this meaning, even though we cannot exclude that, at least in some cases, he might extend that significance.

Scholars regard the story of the tenants as an állegory, rather than a parable. The difference between the two is that, while in a parable we just consider the overall meaning of the story, in an allegory each detail takes on its own significance. Let us see what each element of today’s parable represents: of course, the owner of the vineyard is God; the vineyard, as we said, is the people of Israel; the tenants are the religious leaders, to whom the people had been entrusted; the servants are the prophets; and the son, obviously, is Jesus himself. From the verses that follow today’s selection we learn that, along with the chief priests and the elders, there were also the Pharisees; and we are told that all of them realized that with this parable Jesus was speaking about them. Practically, Jesus accused them of preventing the people from producing the fruit God was expecting from them.

But, as we were saying, Jesus often extends the meaning of some traditional images. So, in our case, the vineyard does not refer only to the house of Israel, but it becomes a symbol for the kingdom of God. In the last verse of today’s passage, Jesus says: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” From this point of view, the tenants are not only the religious leaders of the people, but the people as a whole, and the new people to whom the vineyard will be entrusted is the Church, the new people of God, made of Jews and Gentiles, who have welcomed Christ. This wider interpretation explains why in this parable the destiny of the vineyard is different from that of the vineyard in the first reading. There, the vineyard will be devastated; here, it will just be transferred to another people. The kingdom of God cannot be devastated; it can just be taken away from Israel and entrusted to the Church.

But we cannot fix our attention only on the destiny of the vineyard. The main character of the parable is the son of the vineyard’s owner, that is, Jesus himself. Please notice, Jesus does not put himself among the “servants,” that is the prophets; he is the owner’s son, which means he is the Son of God. Jesus predicts with this parable his passion and death, and also his resurrection. He does it, by quoting a couple of verses from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (hic factus est in caput anguli); by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes.” With his death, Jesus will be rejected; with his resurrection, he will become the cornerstone. But he will be the cornerstone only for those who believe in him; to unbelievers instead he will be a stumbling block, “a stone that will make people stumble, and a rock that will make them fall” (1Pt 2:8). After the last verse of today’s gospel, Jesus adds: “The one who falls on this stone will be dashed to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls” (Mt 21:44). Christ cannot be ignored: we either believe in him or stumble over him. In any case, we have to reckon with him. There is no room for indifference or neutrality.