Matthew 21:33-43
Divine Expectations
by Rev. Robert Wagner

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: "Hear another parable.  There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a tower.  Then he leased it to tenants and went on a journey.  When vintage time drew near, he 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.  Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way.  Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, 'They will respect my son.'  But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, 'This is the heir, Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.'

They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.  What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?"  They answered him, "He will put those wretched men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the proper times."  Jesus said to them, "Did you never read the scriptures: 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes'?  Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit."

In this Sunday's Gospel, Jesus tells us of a landowner who plants a vineyard, erects a fence and a tower to protect it and builds a winepress for harvest time. Then, he leases it to tenants, only to watch them violently turn against him. The landowner sends two groups of slaves to receive the vineyard's harvest, only to have the wicked tenants mistreat and kill them. When the landowner finally sends his son, trusting he will be treated with more respect, the tenants seize and kill him as well.

This parable summarizes the unfaithfulness of the Israelites throughout Scripture. They rejected God in His prophets and ultimately rejected His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Certainly not all the Israelites rejected the prophets and Jesus, but for those who did, we should ponder what caused their blindness. Why could they not identify Him as the Messiah?

Before Jesus became incarnate, the Israelites had an expectation of who the Messiah would be — how he would look, how he would act, and what he would accomplish. Many factors shaped these expectations, including their interpretation of Scripture, the history of the nation of Israel and their own personal experiences of God working in their lives and the lives of others. Some probably thought the Messiah would be a worldly king, coming from a family with high social standing. Others may have assumed the Messiah would rise to a high rank among the religious leaders of Israel.

However, when Jesus came, He did not meet any of these preconceived requirements they had formed. He was a child of humble birth. He preached of forgiving His enemies, not conquering them. His ministry was not limited to the Israelites faithful to the law. Instead — to the shock of many Jewish leaders — Jesus sought out the tax collectors, the adulterers and other outcasts and sinners.

Thus, when the Messiah did not meet their expectations, they failed to recognize Him. Being blinded by pride and sin, they refused to let Jesus reshape their vision of God and their expectations of how He would lead them to glory. This blindness ultimately led to their rejection of Jesus as He foretold in the parable.

We, too, can be blinded in the same way. Our spiritual growth can be stunted by our stubbornness in refusing to change our expectations and put aside our preconceived notions of what holiness looks like. When we place these false expectations in front of the divine reality God offers us, we sin by rejecting Him and His truths.

Each of us has expectations of how God should work in our lives: when He should act; the manner in which He should bring peace in our world and our homes; why He needs to eliminate suffering, etc. No doubt we are disappointed when our expectations are not met. However, by God's will, sometimes our prayers do not lead to the elimination or reduction of the crosses we bear. Sometimes the innocent suffer, and sometimes evil invades our lives. When these things occur, they may contradict our expectations of God. When they do, do we still believe that He is loving and just? Do we still have faith in Him and praise Him for His mercy?

In many cases, we cling to our expectations of how God is revealed in the teachings of Jesus and His church on difficult issues. Often we may think they are unreasonable, outdated, or lacking in compassion. In these cases, we must seek to understand with a docile heart why Jesus and His church give us these truths. Otherwise, when we refuse to accept God’s commands, we create in ourselves a false reality of what God desires for us, and in our stubbornness we lead ourselves and others into sin.

When our expectations of God blind us to His working in our lives, we imitate the tenants in the parable whose pride led them to reject the landowner and his son. May the Holy Spirit enlighten us to see where our understanding of God is contradicted by His truth, that in humility we may convert our thinking and our lives, allowing us to be faithful workers in His kingdom on earth, and joyful saints with Him in heaven.

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