There are many stories about landlords and their tenants. Most of these stories describe some landlords as wicked and heartless. Some describe them as people who are only interested in the increment of the rent or tenancy fee but are unaffected by the deplorable conditions of living their tenants face. There are even more horrifying tales about landlords who bewitch their tenants making them unprogressively stagnant and taking away their lucks as some people would claim.
On the other hand, there are stories about stubborn and destructive tenants. Some are known as people who would not pay their rents as at when due and they would go to any length to ferment and sustain problems for their landlord. Some are even ready to go to court and fight the landlord to any conceivable extent. Based on the recurrent rift between landlords and tenants a late Nigerian musician called Oliver de Coque prayerfully sang that God should help everyone to build a house; that is to become a landlord.
In contrast to all the foregoing tales, there are stories about good landlords and good tenants who live in harmony without acrimony and who are caught up in this inevitable network of mutuality. Anywhere you find this form of good relationship, there may be the possibility that the landlord is doing what he is required to do and the tenants are also responding accordingly. In all, there are two facts which apply to everyone. One is that wherever you stay now you are either a tenant or a landlord, secondly all of us are tenants in this world; God is our Landlord.
Today, we have an interesting story (parable) in the Gospel Reading (Matt.21:33-43) concerning a landlord (or householder) and his tenants. A landlord planted a vineyard, fenced it, dug a winepress, and built a tower on the vineyard. It is interesting to note that the landlord did all the needful in the vineyard. The tenants he brought to stay in the vineyard would have just very minimal tasks to do. The vineyard had been planted and secured. Furthermore the machinery for production was in place. There was also a facility for maximum security represented by the watch tower. The tenants had only the duty of caretaking and harvest. Significantly also, the landlord left the place after leasing it to the tenants and travelled to another country.
There is always a time of harvest. When that time came, the landlord sent his servants to get the fruits of the vineyard but the servants got an aggressive response from the tenants. They had one beaten, killed another and yet another was stoned. This latter may have narrowly escaped death because stoning was one of the ways of forcing someone out of existence (Act 7:58). The landlord did not stop at the first batch, again he sent more servants (more than three this time) and they repeated what they did to the first set of servants.
The landlord now decided to send his only son with the hope that they will respect his son. In contrast to the thinking of the landlord, the tenants saw the killing of the son as a possible means of having complete ownership of the vineyard since no other beneficiary would inherit the place. And that was exactly what they did. They first had him cast out of the vineyard, may be they felt that killing him in the vineyard would mean giving him some honour or posthumous inheritance. They finally had him killed. The reaction of the landlord could be imagined as those who responded to our Lord’s parable attested. He had them driven out and killed and gave the vineyard to new tenants.
There is no doubt that from the parable the landlord is God and the vineyard is the world He created and provided all the things that are needed therein: divine provision and protection; this reminds us of the garden God planted in Eden were Adam and Eve were placed. We can see this very clearly in the parable where we are told that he went to another country and that represents heaven. Furthermore the tenants represents all of us who are brought into this earth by God for the purpose of bearing fruits (Gen.1:28).
The time of harvest has to do with the time of reckoning. The servants represent the patriarchs, judges and prophets that were sent to minister to the people and they rejected them, had some beaten, killed some and stoned others. The son that was sent represents our Lord Jesus Christ the only Son of God whom the people also treated the same way they treated those who came before him and ended by killing him. The direct intervention of the landlord represents the eventual intervention of God which will be His judgement on the wicked.
Today’s message is meant to help us understand that our stay here on earth is temporary. If you like, we are tenants who have but a brief moment to justify our tenancy. It is very instructive to note that in the parable, the landlord did not charge them before letting them into the vineyard. Ordinarily a tenant is required to pay before occupying a place. This is typical of God His ways are different from our ways and his thoughts are also different from our thoughts (Is.55:8-9). For God, it is pay after service not pay before service. More so, you are not required to pay with your own resources but the fruit of what He has already given to you.
The tenants were given the freedom to use the vineyard in whichever way that appealed to them. However, they were required to simply return some of the fruits to the landlord; from the episode in the parable, that was the only thing that was required of them. It is the same way that God requires us to bear good fruits, to live good lives, to produce good not evil in our lives. Some of us like the tenants are still killing the servants and the only son. We do so when we hear the word of God and refuse to allow it to become relevant and fruitful in our lives. We kill the servants and the only son when we wilfully stifle the truth, discourage the word of God and when we keep doing our will instead of the will of God.
As tenants in God’s vineyard what are our expectations? We are required to be good tenants who are ready and willing to fulfil the obligations of our tenancy. To achieve this St. Paul among other things in the Second Reading (Phil.4:6-9) advised us to pay attention to:
- Whatever is true
- Whatever is honourable
- Whatever is just
- Whatever is pure
- Whatever is lovely
- Whatever is gracious
- Anything that is excellent
- Anything that is worthy of praise!
Within the general vineyard which is the world, God has given each of us different vineyards in form of our families, places of work, where we attend school, the people under us. In these vineyards we are also expected to bear fruits. These places are where we function and whatever we do in these places determine our fate with God in the world. In a more personal way, our souls are our personal vineyards which we move about with. It remains very precious to God and we must work to make it fruitful.
As we march into a new week, let us pay particular attention to the vineyards around us and let us also make sure that we produce fruits so that when the harvest time comes we shall not be like the empty tenants who had nothing to offer but aggression.