October 18, 2007

Creation as Tenant Association

Slowly but surely I've been making my way through Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth. Earlier today I read his exegesis of the synoptic parable of the wicked tenants. (Mt 21:33-46, Mk 12:1-12, Lk 20:9-19) Here's Luke's version, in honor of his feast day:
And he began to tell the people this parable: "A man planted a vineyard, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, that they should give him some of the fruit of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant; him also they beat and treated shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third; this one they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, `What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; it may be they will respect him.' But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, `This is the heir; let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.' And they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants, and give the vineyard to others."

The parable is itself a riff on Isaiah's "Song of the Vineyard," in which God sings a lament over how poorly his people have cared for the vineyard of the world he entrusted to them. In the synoptic parable, of course, the landlord finally sends his own son to take care of the situation, but the tenants kill him.

Of course we are meant to see the mission of the Incarnate Son in our hearing of the parable, but Benedict takes it to another level, interpreting the parable for our own time:
If we open our eyes, isn't what is said in the parable actually a description of our present world?Isn't it precisely the logic of the modern age, or our age? Let us declare that God is dead, then we ourselves will be God. At last we no longer belong to anyone else; rather, we are simply the owners of ourselves and of the world. At last we can do as we please. We get rid of God; there is no measuring rod above us; we ourselves are our only measure. The "vineyard" belongs to us. What happens to man and the world next? We are already beginning to see it... (p. 257)

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