A foundational quality of a good leader, whether he or she be a political or religious leader, would be that they are seeking the best interest of those they serve. They also seek to be good stewards. Unfortunately, self-interest is a tremendous temptation. For how long are they willing to approach the position as one who is willing to serve instead of being served? Another important attribute in a leader is their openness to critique and guidance when they are in need to hear it.
Jesus in today’s parable presents a landowner who turns his vineyard over to tenant farmers. They are to oversee the crops to bring about a productive yield of grapes come harvest time. Unfortunately: “When vintage time drew near, he [the owner] sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned” (Mt 21:34-35). Eventually, the owner sends his own son, and the tenants kill him.
Jesus offered this parable as a mirror to the tenants of his time, the chief priests and Pharisees, of Israel. The vineyard is an image used to represent Israel. Clearly, the owner is God, and the tenant farmers are those in leadership positions overseeing the care of Israel. We do not know which leaders hearing this parable took it to heart and changed their minds and repented from their self-centered focus. We do know that there were those who carried out exactly what Jesus laid out in the parable. There were those, who following political and religious leaders of the past, persecuted, beat, and killed the prophets, and would do the same to Jesus.
Jesus called for the people of Israel in his time to rise up and actualize the potential of their covenantal relationship with and faithfulness in serving God. He still does so today. We who bear the name of Christian are part of this heritage or “spiritual Semites” as Pope St. Paul VI has stated. We ought to have a close relationship with our brothers and sisters in Judaism and we too are also given the responsibility of being good stewards.
Pope Francis offers us a prescription that we can aspire to that comes from one of our brothers in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople: “He [Bartholomew] asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which ‘entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed, and compulsion'” (Laudato Si, 9).
This is a way we are to follow and to model. All of us on this earth are stewards awaiting the return of the Son of the Land Owner, whether people of faith or no faith, and we need to resist the temptation of the tenants from today’s parable who sought to grasp at what was not theirs and embraced the deadly sin of envy and greed. Instead, may we be more open to receiving what we have been entrusted with and care for the gift of the earth, all humanity, and life upon it.
Photo: View from Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA a few years ago.