The Parable of the Wicked Tenants in the original Marcan version is Jesus’ response to the question: “By what authority do you do these things?” The answer is that He has come with the authority of the Son of the vineyard’s owner, looking for the fruits of vineyard. Ambrose, working on the version of the parable in the Lucan gospel, explains it allegorically. The tenants are the Jews who murder the prophets. Interesting here is his mention of Naboth, who defends his vineyard with his own blood (see the story of Naboth in 1 Kings 21). Ambrose uses it as a prophetic story, prefiguring the sacrifice of the prophets and the martyrs for the Lord’s vineyard.
The quotation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church is actually based on a passage from Lumen Gentium which synthesizes many biblical passages on the image of the Church as God’s tillage.
The Church is a cultivated field, the tillage of God. On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about again. The land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly cultivator. Yet the true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is , to us, who through the Church remain in Christ, without whom we can do nothing. (CCC 755)
“A man planted a vineyard”. Some deduce different meanings in the name of the vineyard, but it is evident that Isaiah remembers the vineyard of the Lord Sabaoth as the house of Israel (Is. 5:7) Who else but God created this vineyard? He it is therefore who has rented it out and who left to go faraway, not in the sense that the Lord moved on to a different place, since He is always everywhere, but because he is nearer to them who loves him and goes far from those who offend him. He was absent for a long periods of time so as to avoid that the collection become premature. The more patient is the benevolence, the more inexcusable is the obstinacy.
For this reason, according to Matthew, one rightly finds that “he encircled it with a wall” (Mt. 21:33; Is. 5:2), that is the fence, providing for it protection so that it is not easily exposed to the attacks of spiritual beasts.
And when the time came for fruits, he sent his poor servants. It is right that he indicates here the time of fruits, not the harvest. In fact from the Jews, there was no fruit: this vineyard did not yield a harvest, since the Lord says about it: “I waited for it to produce grapes, but it gave forth spines (Isaiah 5:2)”. For this reason, the wine press overflowed not with wine that rejoices, nor with spiritual brew, but with the red blood of the prophets.
Jeremiah himself was thrown into a cistern (Jeremiah 38:6), of this kind are the winepresses of the Jews, filled not with wine but with mire. Even if this might seem to be a general allussion to the prophets, the passage however still permits us to think that it deals with the famous Nabot (1 Kings 21:1-14) who was stoned. Even if no prophetic word has been passed on to us from him, still, his prophetic story was passed on to us, since he predicts with his own blood that there would be many martyrs for the sake of this vineyard. And who is the one who gets hit first? Certainly it would be Isaiah, whom a saw could more easily cut in half than to make his faith to vacillate, or his fidelity to diminish or to cut off the vigor of his soul.
And this happened because, after he had sent out many other foreigners whom the Jews threw out without honor and without success (since they could not derive any advantage from it) He sent His only Son as a last resort to those perfidious men, who moved by envy to eliminate him, because he was the heir, they killed him, crucifying him, not welcoming him, they rejected him.
The vineyard prefigures us, the people of God established on the roots of eternal life (John 15:1-6)… The vinedresser is certainly the Father omnipotent (John 15:1), the vine is Christ and we are the branches (John 15:5). But if we don’t bear fruit in Christ, we are cut off (John 15:2)… For this reason, it is correct that the people be called the vineyard of Christ, either because on their forehead is placed like an ornament the sine of the cross, or even because one collects its fruit during the last season of the year, or because just like what happens to all the branches of the vine, so in the Church of God, the measurement of all is the same, there is not difference between the poor and the rich, the humble and the powerful, the slave and the master (Col. 3:25; Eph. 6:8). Just as the vine is wed to the tree, so the body is joined to the soul and the soul to the body. Just as branches of the vine are straight when tied up together and when pruned is not made poor, but becomes more rich, so the holy people when it is tied is made free, when humiliated, raises itself up and when cut off, receives the crown. And when the tender branch, detached from the ancient tree, is grafted into the fruitfulness of a young tree, so even this holy people … grows because it is held secure within the wood of the cross as if in the womb of a loving mother. And the Holy Spirit, as if descending into the ground, pours itself into this body’s prison, cleanses away the dirt with the current of saving water, and raises the habits of our members to the heights of our heavenly course.
This is the vineyard which the industrious vinedresser often hoes and waters… But let us keep ourselves from damaging this vineyard which the custodian raised by the Lord, has encircled with the wall of eternal life in opposition to all the lies of worldly malice.
Hail, O Vineyard worthy of such a great custodian. You have been consecrated, not with the blood of Naboth (1 Kings 21:13) nor of those innumberable prophets alone, but especially that of the blood more precious, poured out by the Lord. It is true that he (Naboth), without getting frightened by the threats of a king, did not suffocate fidelity with fear, nor did he, enticed by so many recompense, did not give in exchange his religious conviction but, opposing the desire of the tyrant, (since the grass of the wicked should not be sowed in his garden in the place of the vine that has been cut off) contained with his own blood, not being able to do otherwise, the flames prepared for the vine. But he defended always just one material vineyard. But you instead planted us for all eternity with the execution of many prophets, and the cross of the apostles emulating the passion of the Lord, making us spread to the ends of the earth.
Ambrose of Milan, In Lucam 9:23-30.33
Originally posted 2008-09-03 00:48:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
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