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Jesus told a parable to those who were listening to him: “There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved abroad. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the son and heir. Come on, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” Jesus then said to those listening to him, “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? He will bring those wretches to a wretched end.” Matthew 21:33
The people working and looking after the vineyard thought that they could do without not only the landlord’s servants and his son, but the landlord too. They killed everyone whom the landlord sent, including the landlord’s only son. They thought, if we get rid of all the servants and the son and, perhaps, the landlord himself, we might be able to own the vineyard ourselves. This story is about God and his people; the landlord and the workers. In this story Jesus was warning the people of his own day about the dangers of rejecting God; of thinking that they could possibly flourish without him. Even in our own day, our society – previously assumed to be Christian – is on the brink of saying that God is no longer relevant or important. If we think that we can do without all that is good, i.e. truth, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, kindness, generosity and love then one could say that we are mad, for ALL THAT IS GOOD COMES FROM GOD. All good things find their source and their beginning and their end in God. When Jesus was telling this story to the people of his day he knew perfectly well that he was the owner’s son and that, like the prophets before him, he would be killed. He knew that the vineyard was not in good hands. That was why he went on to say, “I tell you, that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to other people who will produce good fruit from the vineyard.” And so it turned out: his own people – the Israelites – rejected him and he gave his vineyard to us. We are now the workers in the vineyard and we all have a job to do. I have said this before and I will say it again: I don’t care what you end up doing with your lives as long as you do do just two things: love God and love others. That is all that is required of those who labour in God’s vineyard.
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The good thief reminds us of our true condition before God: we are his children and he comes to meet us, having compassion on us. There is no person, however bad he may have been in his life, to whom God denies his grace if he repents.
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