The English language and no doubt many languages have an expression that covers the trap implied in the words, "I don't mean to criticize, but . . ." The use of these words seeks forgiveness of those listening for what follows. I find myself about to step into that trap.
Today's Gospel plunges us into a serious discussion between Jesus and some Temple bigwigs, the chief priests and elders.
A word in the first sentence, "another" warns us that some action has preceded what we have before us; that word should serve discerning readers.
But as a child of the 21st century, I often need specific direction and would have acted on a discreet marginal note in red type, a rubric in my Sunday Missal, saying "Read the verses which precede."
Even without the rubric, I wondered what the preceding verses contained. I had to look.
There I learned that Jesus' life had entered its public phase. In a passage with a humorous touch, the chief priests and elders challenge him, "Who gave you this authority (to teach)?"
However, when he challenges them in return, they beat a limping retreat. Matthew deftly sketches the political scene against which Jesus carries out his ministry.
In today's meeting with community leaders things heat up. We come upon one in a series of confrontations with the priests, elders and Pharisees. Jesus uses his accustomed technique of the parable to make his points. Some might wonder why he doesn't speak directly, "lay down the law" as we might say in our day.
The parable, an effective, searching, teaching technique, has a persuasive quality inasmuch as it opens up a subject for examination. It disposes the listener to ask, "What is he driving at? What's his point?"
Good homilists of today often make use of parables. They make us think.
So what did my thinking reveal?
As I see it, in Jesus' parable of the vineyard, we discern the Lord's gift of Israel. In his reference to the neglectful tenants, the priests and elders soon recognize themselves.
They see that Jesus tells them that they have failed in the trust given them - failing even to recognize him as the cornerstone of the society they would build - the rejected cornerstone, now given over to the Gentiles.
In the parable he puts it this way, "he will . . . lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at harvest time."
To drive home the point, Jesus repeats the lesson in his final bone chilling words, "The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom."
Now the vineyard lies about us, and we the tenants become worthy as we strive to cultivate its fruits.
Poets often speak for me. Few have said it as well, and none better than the Englishman, William Blake.
"Where mercy, love and pity dwell, there God is dwelling too."