From homo Sapiens to murderous peasants in the Lord's vineyard

Homiletics of the Fathers of The Island of Patmos


Our ancestors sapiens when they began to domesticate those animal species and those few seeds that we still find on our table, they could not imagine the particular bond that would be created between man and the cultivation of vines. A relationship that smells of alliance and therefore of passion, of care and even love. I remember the farmers I met, when they wanted to express the effort of their specific job they said: «The land is low!». Because not only do you have to lean towards it, but also to support it and work on it with great effort.










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Historians of evolution they say that the transition to agriculture for our species began in a period ranging from 9500 all’8500 a.C. in a hilly region located between south-eastern Turkey, western Iran and the Near East. It started slowly and in a rather limited geographical area. Wheat and goats were domesticated approximately around 9000 a.C.; peas and lentils around 8000 BC.; the olive trees in 5000 a.C.; the horses in the 4000 a.C.; and the screw in the 3500 a.C. It is precisely about the soil that will take the name of vineyard from the vine that Jesus will speak in the Gospel passage about it twenty-seventh Sunday of ordinary time.

"During that time, Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: Listen to another parable: there was a man, who owned land and planted a vineyard there. He surrounded it with a hedge, he dug a hole for the wine press and built a tower. He rented it to some farmers and went far away. When the time came to reap the fruits, he sent his servants to the farmers to collect the harvest. But the farmers took the servants and beat one of them, they killed another, they stoned another. He sent more servants again, more numerous than the former, but they treated them equally. Finally he sent his son to them saying: «They will have respect for my son!». But the farmers, saw his son, they said to each other: «This is the heir. His, Let's kill him and we will have his inheritance!». They took him, they chased him out of the vineyard and killed him. So when will the owner of the vineyard come?, what will he do to those farmers?». They answered: «Those wicked people, he will make them die miserably and will rent the vineyard to other farmers, who will deliver the fruits to him in due time". And Jesus said to them,: «You have never read in the Scriptures: «The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was done by the Lord and it is a marvel in our eyes"? Therefore I tell you: the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruits" (Mt 21,33-43).

Our ancestors sapiens when they began to domesticate those animal species and those few seeds that we still find on our table, they could not imagine the particular bond that would be created between man and the cultivation of vines. A relationship that smells of alliance and therefore of passion, of care and even love. I remember the farmers I met, when they wanted to express the effort of their specific job they said: «The land is low!». Because not only do you have to lean towards it, but also to support it and work on it with great effort. However, when they started talking about the vineyard and the wine they had tapped, the conversation changed, the memory of the effort and dedication disappeared: they appeared repaid, they became proud of the fruit obtained from the vine and therefore jealous of their vineyard. It is possible that this primordial experience inspired the biblical authors, especially the prophets, when they sang on several occasions the special bond between the farmer and the vineyard as an allegory of the alliance between God and his people Israel. The undoubtedly most famous passage is the one reported in this Sunday's first reading taken from the prophet Isaiah:

«I want to sing for my beloved my song of love for his vineyard. My beloved owned a vineyard on a fertile hill. He had dug it up and cleared it of stones and had planted valuable vines there; in the middle he had built a tower and also dug a vat. He waited for it to produce grapes; it produced, instead, unripe grapes. And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, be you judges between me and my vineyard. What else should I have done to my vineyard that I haven't done??» (Is 5,1-4).

So when Jesus began to tell the listeners instantly understood what he was talking about, unlike us who have lost that immediacy and need many explanations. In fact, the understanding of the parable called "of the murderous winegrowers" represented a significant moment in the history of Christian exegesis. There was a time, not very far from ours, in which it was thought that the verse «Therefore I say to you: the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruits" constituted a real punishment for Israel and an attack by Jesus on Judaism, so that the Church was not to be considered as a new Israel that replaced the old, but the real one1, as God had intended from the beginning. But throughout the Gospel of Matthew this attack is not evident and so that interpretation is today considered obsolete. As well as the idea descending from the previous one that Israel as a people had been rejected by God. Certainly Jesus was speaking in the temple addressing the elders and chief priests and his words reported the heavy punishment caused by the refusal of the emissaries of the owner of the vineyard. They were those envoys who will be spoken of in Mt 23,34: «So here, I send prophets to you, wise men and scribes: of these, some you will kill and crucify, others you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute them from city to city.". Above all, Jesus announced the killing of his son. But he was addressing the leader religious, what he will call blind guides (cf.. Mt 23,16) and since the parable is now present in the Gospel those words will always be valid for the Church and its leaders. In particular the vineyard which is the holy Israel of God, the chosen people, it will not be burned or devastated like the city spoken of in the following parable (Mt 22,7) but rather it is there ready to bear good fruit; solo, the current winemakers will not be the ones to pick them: the vineyard, the people of the alliance, will be entrusted to other farmers. Therefore all the parables of Jesus and this one in particular must be considered as open works. Enclose them within a single interpretation, as a Procrustean bed, it would do them an injustice because the value lies in the concern that they will continue to arouse, combined with the questions that will press the faith of the disciples and their following, so that they are continually encouraged.

Jesus began the story by saying that there was a man, an owner – the term oikodespotes (host) it can also mean a family man, in fact the Vulgate translated: The man was the father of the family - who planted a vineyard and equipped it with everything necessary, then he entrusted it to some winemakers and left. The verb apodemeo (I'm emigrating from which resigned the v.33) indicates someone who goes outside the homeland, all’estero, moving away from your home. This man left taking with him the thought and memory of the vineyard, so when the time came for the fruits he sent servants to ask for them, but they were brutally treated by the foster carers. Evidently they were convinced in their hearts that the owner, having left, had also forgotten about the vineyard and that it was now theirs., so they grabbed it, replacing the real owner. But ultimately he only claimed the fruits, he wasn't claiming ownership. With a patience that would seem incredible if it were not ascribed to God, he again sent servants in greater numbers and these too suffered the same fate as the previous ones.. The readers of the Gospel who at this point will already feel the anger at the abuse building, hoping to see the re-establishment of justice even with the use of force, they will find themselves unprepared and shocked to read that the father is about to jeopardize the life of his own son. But the owner of the vineyard, we know it by now, he is an extraordinary father, as this Sunday's collection prayer will say: He adds "what prayer does not dare to hope for". So he did not send any more emissaries as representatives, but he sent his son directly, moved by an intimate hope: «They will have respect for my son!».

We know how things ended, it is useless to repeat it. The detail of the murder committed outside the vineyard remained engraved in the memory of the authors of the New Testament and so they mentioned it when it came to recounting the death of Jesus (cf.. MC 15,20; Mt 27,31, EB 13,12) or Stefano's (cf.. At 7,58). The son expelled from the vineyard was the tangible sign of the rejection of divine will and of the substitution that those farmers wanted to pursue: «This is the heir. His, Let's kill him and we will have his inheritance!».

The next words of Jesus introduced by the question about the fate of those murderous winemakers will take all the attention and, as we reported above, also that of future exegesis, passing over in silence a not insignificant detail that Jesus had mentioned and which could instead represent the heart of the parable, what illuminates it and gives it meaning, even more so than the very elimination and replacement of evil tenants. This detail refers to the thought of the owner of the vineyard who expected respect towards his sent son. The verb warehouse, I allow the v. 37 in the active form it means to change, to change, return to one's senses and into the passive one, as it is in the Gospel: be moved, bring respect, hesitate. The Vulgate chose to fear and reported: “They will fear my son“. In whatever way you want to translate that explicit desire, it is clear that the owner of the vineyard did not expect the violent death of his son. That was his dream, God's dream. In the Gospel of Matthew already Joseph and then the Magi (cf.. Mt 1,20; 2,12-13) by listening to a dream they were able to save Jesus. They had thus accomplished God's will. What would have happened if Pilate had listened to his wife's dream (cf.. Mt 27,19) narrated in the tale of the passion: he would have spared Jesus from condemnation? That phrase from the parable, apparently innocent, it undermines some easy and inappropriate theologies of redemption. In it we read not only the hope that Israel will convert, but also that the son is spared.

Of course without forgetting that three times Jesus will show that he ascends voluntarily, freely and knowingly in Jerusalem (cf.. Mt 16,21-23), where he would have met the death that he would accept even more decisively in Gethsemane: "Thy will be done" (Mt 26,42). Matthew even reread his delivery in the light of the Scriptures: «All this happened so that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled» (Mt 26,56). However, one could not think so, always in the logic of Matthew's story, that the initial project was not this, but rather what Jesus himself will talk about - in truth after all three announcements of the passion - hinting at a palingenesis (cf.. Mt 19,282 e 25,31-46); that he would have liked to advance by restoring the Israel of God? However, when the plan began to deteriorate, then Jesus, like the son in the parable, he will show that he loves his vineyard so much to the point of dying for it. St. Ambrose's comment comes to mind: «Hi, vineyard worthy of such a great guardian: not the blood of Naboth alone but that of countless prophets has consecrated you, and indeed that, all the more precious, poured out by the Lord"3. The parable, so, who insisted on the master's mercy, he also let his son's free offer emerge in the background.

This parable certainly resonates as a judgment from God, but not on the people of Israel, but on those leaders of the people who rejected and condemned Jesus. Matteo, indeed, will record their reaction immediately afterwards; they tried to capture him but were afraid of the crowd and therefore postponed their plan for a few days, waiting for a more favorable situation (in the night and in Gethsemane, where there will be no crowd of his followers; cf.. Mt 26,47-56). In fact, they had understood that that parable identified them as the murderous winemakers. But the parable says that this will also be the judgment on the Church, especially on his bosses. The vineyard was taken away from those leaders of Israel and given a new human community (ethnos, without article of v.43): the community of the poor in spirit, of the myths that, according to the promise of the Lord, they will inherit the earth (cf. Mt 5,5; Shall 37,11), to that humble and poor people constituted heirs forever by the Lord (cf. Sof 3,12-13; Is 60,21; Gives 30,3).

It is very important on a theological level understand that the function of the Matthean form of the parable is not to exalt Christianity over Judaism, but rather to leave open the response to the renewed offer of reconciliation made by the raised Christ. In a sense, the Church finds itself in a similar position to that of Israel. In another sense, however, she has already experienced the miraculous intervention of God. The discarded stone now constitutes the corner header. It will be this generation of Christians who welcome the kingdom of God and produce fruits of justice, or it will be taken away from her to be entrusted to another? The aforementioned Ambrose of Milan saw that the danger of incurring punishment is for everyone, also for Christians: «The vinedresser is without any doubt the almighty Father, the vine is Christ, and we are the branches: but if we do not bear fruit in Christ we are cut off by the sickle of the eternal cultivator"4. Said this, it is clear that the parable is Christological and theological. The son of the owner of the vineyard is characterized with those attributes, like the idea of ​​inheritance, which are typical of Jesus' language when he wanted to talk about himself and his relationship with his father; his death outside the city walls will obviously remember the end of the Messiah. But the parable also says a lot about the Father: his judgement, strangely, late in arriving; God is even represented as far too patient. Any listener of the story, in the time of Jesus, he would have been struck by what might appear to be a weakness of character. That God, however, knows how to wait and continues to hope for a change in his winemakers who might even "respect his son" (cf.. Mt 21,37). Unlike what we do, God does not allow himself to be demoralized by a rejection, he persists in his proposal of salvation, He never wants the death of the sinner, but that he converts and lives.

I would like to conclude by remembering that the significance of this parable was grasped in a particular way by Benedict XVI, in a moment that we imagine was full of emotion and great fear for him. From the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica on the evening of his election he spoke thus of himself:

«They elected me, a simple and humble worker in the Lord's vineyard. I am consoled by the fact that the Lord knows how to work and act even with insufficient tools and above all I entrust myself to your prayers"5.

Happy Sunday everyone.

from the Hermitage, 8 October 2023




1 Trilling W., The real Israel. Studies on the theology of the Gospel of Matthew, Piemme, 1992

2 "And Jesus said to them,: “«Truly I say to you: you who followed me, when the Son of man sits on the throne of his glory, to the regeneration of the world, you will also sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.".

3 Sant'Ambrogio, Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, New City 1978.

4 Sant'Ambrogio, on. cit.

5 See:



Sant'Angelo Cave in Ripe (Civitella del Tronto)



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