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What God does with our desire to be like him

parable grapes vineyard Eucharist

Deyan Georgiev | Shutterstock

Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP - published on 10/07/23

The Son’s desire to share his inheritance with us is greater than our desire to acquire it on our own

One of the Lord’s most brutal parables is the one we hear this weekend, the parable of the wicked tenants (Mt 21:33-43). The tenants are rapacious people who renege on paying their “rent”: produce from the vineyard. When the landowner attempts to collect what they owe him, the tenants react ruthlessly, seizing the emissary servants, beating, stoning, and even killing them. Savagery possesses them; no quantity of sent servants can curb their cruelty. The situation appears hopeless.

One thing greater

But the landowner does not give up. He knows there to be one thing greater than the enormity of evil people can commit: the sending of his own son. By doing this, the landowner appeals to the tenants’ humanity. He is counting on the fact that even the most sadistic person will honor the sacred bond between father and son. 

What is it that brought the tenants to the depths of depravity? Who knows? The temptation for us is to fixate on the viciousness of the tenants. But the landowner does not do that. Rather, he recognizes a potential in the wicked tenants, and he responds with what he judges to be adequate for quelling their wickedness — he responds with what is needed to convert them.

What we want

The plan seems to backfire because the sight of the son only incites demonic designs: Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance. It’s hard to read what happens next. And when Jesus asks his hearers what they expect the owner of the vineyard to do in retaliation, they answer: He will put those wretched men to a wretched death. … Note, though, that the text does not say that the landowner does that. Because, in a way, he doesn’t need to. For me, one of the most “convicting” passages in The Imitation of Christ is this one:

The one who clings to a creature will fall with its frailty, but the person who gives themself to Jesus will ever be strengthened. If you seek yourself, you will find yourself — to your own ruin. For the person who does not seek Jesus does themself much greater harm than the whole world and all their enemies could ever do.

The tremendous grace in the sending of the son is that of leading the tenants to discover what they want: to acquire his inheritance. Now think about your own sins. I don’t know many people who wake up in the morning willing to do wrong. And yet in the course of the day we fall into sin of all sorts. How much of it is spawned by frustration, by a sense of worthlessness and futility, of being passed over — feeling like we don’t matter? Probably a lot.

What is going to be done

God the Father will send his Son … and the world will seize him and kill him. But that is not the end of the story. The Son’s desire to share his inheritance with us is greater than our desire to acquire it on our own. And it is the Son’s dying and then rising that makes that possible. St. Augustine says,

But there came to us another inheritance, that of the man who took on our inheritance and promised us his own. We were in possession of death through blame; he took death to himself without blame. Though he wasn’t a debtor, he was put to death, and so tore up the debtors’ bills. So, all of you, let your minds be full of faith in the Resurrection. What Christians are promised is not only everything that the Scriptures proclaim has been done in Christ, but also what is going to be done in him.

No matter what wickedness or wretchedness engulfs us, the situation is not hopeless. There is still pulsing in our humanity a desire for something more. And God the Father appeals to our deep desire for an inheritance that makes life worth living by sending us his own Son. Jesus is the inheritance we seek. We don’t really want the vineyard — we want the Vine (Jn 15:1). 

I understood why God sent his Son: to placate our envy of him. Man wants to be God, and this is why he breaks off the relationship, separates. Then it falls to God to take the step, to send his Son to remedy this wickedness that man bears within him. But then Jesus Christ is what conquers this state of separation of evil and fear.When you suffer a lack of freedom, an enslavement, a turmoil of the affections, when you are out of sorts, if you offer it to Christ, starting over again from him, then the tension is released. It is as though we find ourselves at a lower level of struggle, and we feel better (Emilia Vergani).

~

Find Fr. Peter John Cameron’s reflection on the Sunday Gospel each week here.

And follow his series of brief reflections on prayer here.

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