Matthew 21:33-43
'Truths to Remember' by Rev. Paul Scalia
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."

They say the memory is the first to go.  Well, that may or may not be true in the natural life.  But it is certainly true in the supernatural life.  Once we fail to remember the Lord and His works, our spiritual and moral life begins to founder.  Thus Scripture is full of the commands "remember" and "do not forget."  The Ten Commandments likewise begin, not with a commandment, but with a reminder: "I am the Lord your God" (Ex 20:2).  After all, if we forget that truth, then we should not hope to keep the commandments.

The parable of the wicked tenants (Mt 21:33-43) presents Israel's tragic failure to remember.  The parable's landowner represents God, and the vineyard he built is Jerusalem, or Israel in general.  The tenants - Israel's leaders - failed to remember that He was the One Who made their vineyard.  They had, as Isaiah warned, "forgotten the God of (their) salvation" (Is 17:10).  Their forgetfulness caused them to turn to resent His commands.  They beat and even killed his servants - that is, the prophets sent to remind them of God.  The landowner's son - our Lord Himself - they killed outside the vineyard.  He came into the world to collect the harvest but received instead the full brunt of their resentment.

We face the same danger as the wicked tenants: forgetfulness.  When forgetfulness creeps in - when we forget that it is He Who made us and redeemed us - then we begin to view ourselves as independent from Him.  We fall into a false sense of self-sufficiency.  We grow to resent His commands as inconveniences, intrusions and violations of our autonomy.  His messengers become annoying to us, and we dismiss them, reject them or persecute them.  Unchecked, such resentment gradually becomes hatred for anything that threatens our independence - hatred even for our Lord Himself.

The Church constantly guards us against this forgetfulness.  As a good mother she forever reminds us of the Lord, His works and His law.  Although in our more childish moments we might regard it as nagging, she persistently says, in effect, "Take heed lest you forget the Lord" (Dt 6:12).  through her priests and bishops she puts our Lord's teachings before us always.  She points to what He has already accomplished, reminding us that it was He Who established us as His vineyard.  At the same time she looks to the future and makes us "remember" that moment when He will come again and gather His harvest.

Mother Church fulfills this apostolate to the memory most especially in the Liturgy.  In the cycle of the Liturgical Year she walks us through the life of Christ.  Year after year she causes us to remember His Incarnation, birth, life, Passion, death and Resurrection.  We revisit His words and deeds over and over again.  Further-more, in the Mass she actually makes present our Lord's greatest work - His sacrifice on the Cross.  She does not just recall or recollect His sacrifice.  Rather, she makes His sacrifice truly present, so that we can conform our lives to it.  And she does this in obedience to His command: "Do this in memory of me."

If the memory is the first to go, it must also be the first to guard.  Our Lord has established the Church as His continuing presence in the world.  She is the constant reminder and living memory of who He was and what He did.  Let us then heed her teachings and follow her instructions, lest we fall into that dark and dangerous forgetfulness of God.

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