The logic of the tenants in Jesus’ parable today baffles me. Think about it: they were leasing the vineyard from the owner – the owner – to tend it and bring about produce for him. That was a common practice in the ancient Middle East. The tenants would share in the later profit from the sale of the fruits of the vineyard, but the vineyard did not belong to them. This was common knowledge.
So, when the owner sends his representatives to the tenants to gather the fruits, the fact that they mistreated, abused, and even killed his servants is strange. Why? Even when the owner sends his son, they murder him. Why?
After killing everyone off, they reason that they will have the vineyard as their own. However, there is still a flaw: the owner is still alive – and he will certainly be angry! How does killing off your patron’s messengers and family lead you to believe that you will now benefit? Even the people who heard Jesus tell this story understand the folly. Their assessment; “He will put those wretched men (kakois, meaning “crappy”) to a wretched death.” Why did they do this?
It doesn’t make sense.
This week, like all of you, I have been bewildered, saddened, and lost over the senseless shooting in Las Vegas. On Monday, we saw news people interview the shooter’s brother in Florida. His confusion was evident. “We can’t understand what happened,” he said. He and the rest of America. Why?
In the face of evil, we are always looking for answers – for reasons. As of now, we still don’t know why. But even if we did, it would not bring back those 58 people; it would not heal the more than 500 wounded. Sometimes, evil has no good explanation – like the tenants who lashed out against the owner.
In the light of this horrible event that has scarred our nation, what are we as people of faith to do? The debates over gun control and mental health, over the Second Amendment and public safety will continue. But what about you and me – here?
Stephen Paddock’s brother observed that he had “no religious affiliations, no political agendas,” as if that would be a possible explanation. Why do people do terrible things? This is the heart of what we in the Christian tradition call the “mystery of evil.” Pope St. John Paul II referred to this mystery in speaking about sin and its effects in our world – which we see far too often. It can make us feel helpless.However, the same saintly pope spoke of something to counter that mystery of evil. He called it the “mystery of piety.” We can see that in reference to this parable for ourselves, if we learn that the proper response to the owner is gratitude and cooperation with his plan. Then, we are truly coworkers in the vineyard, and we get to share in the blessings of the fruit.
Does evil really need a reason? What about good? Why do I do good things? Does anyone ever ask that question? Have you ever asked your kids, "Why did you do that wonderful thing?!" Why did a man lay down to cover two girls when the shooting was fierce? Why did so many first responders rush to help? Why was there good in the midst of that horror? Have We ever asked that question? More importantly, do we strive to answer it?
We do good because it is in line with God’s plan for us; because it is right, because it is decent; and above all, because it’s kind; because it is Christ-like. I cannot stop evil from happening in the world; however, I can do one of two things in light of it: I can run away from it and hide – in which case many people around me will suffer; or I can stand and oppose evil with goodness – because it is the right thing to do, because it is Christ-like. I can do good where I stand and make the little world around me a little better – as a coworker with others in this vineyard where we are only tenants.
We can stand here and be the good that we want to see in the world; and our world here will shine a little brighter. Or, we can complain and resign ourselves and our world to those who need no good reason to ruin things.
But that’s not why God made me; and it’s not why He made you. Whether you stand or fall is up to you.