At spring time, Jerusalem opened its twelve doors to thousands and thousands of Israelites from all parts of the country. Everyone wanted to take shelter within its walls to celebrate the great feast of the Passover… The caravans of pilgrims also included junk dealers pushing their carts, vendors selling their wares of sweets in baskets on their heads, roving teachers, prostitutes from the neighboring towns, the Bedouins who were experts in buying and selling sheep, professional beggars and the old sitar players seated at the street corners who earned their money by playing old songs…….
Zither Player: It’s the story of my friend / that I’m going to sing to you / let me begin: / my good friend had / a vineyard which he treasured / and loved without measure. He weeded it, sowed the land / and built a tower / and a wine press / in anticipation for his grapes / to fill the buckets with wine / which he also made.
As we entered the city through the Water Gate, a lot of people recognized Jesus and followed us. By this time, the Moreno was already known in the whole of Jerusalem.
Jesus: That’s a beautiful song, grandpa.
Zither Player: Beautiful and old, my son. It’s seven times older than I. They say the prophet Isaiah used to sing it right here, beside the Temple….
A Man: Now, Israel has her prophet and Messiah!
A Woman: Yes, sir! Long live Jesus of Nazareth!
All: Long live Jesus!…. Long live Jesus!
Zither Player: You mean, the great prophet is here…? Where is he…. where?
Peter: Don’t turn around, old man…. It’s this bearded guy before you who was praising your song…
Zither Player: How’s that?….. You…? Oh, my son, I’m almost blind, you know…
Another Man: Long live the prophet from Galilee?
The uproar of those around us was getting louder and louder. Soon, a group of priests and magistrates from the Sanhedrin was seen coming out of one of the doors of the Temple in their elegant tunics and tiaras. From the steps of the Temple, they continued watching us. They despised Jesus, yet, they also feared him, most especially, they feared the great mass of people who were gathered around us… Jesus, who saw them at once, raised his voice…
Jesus: Hey, grandpa, why don’t you sing more songs about the vineyard?… I’m sure the people will listen to you, and surely, you’ll be earning some dinarii.
Zither Player: Oh, my son, I don’t remember the lines anymore…. How about you? Maybe you’re a singing prophet, like Isaiah or like our king David…
Jesus: Nah, I sing worse than a toad…. but let me tell you the story without music… I think the people up there want to hear it…. Listen… all of you…. There was a master who owned a vineyard. His name was Michael….
Jesus: Michael loved his land very much. Since it was good land for grapes, he planted a vineyard. He cleaned his land very well, put a fence around it, put up a wine press beside it and built a tower where he could see his entire land…
Michael: Look, son…. What do you think? Isn’t this the most beautiful land of all?
Jesus: Michael had a son. He loved him very much, more than anything else, more than his vineyard, so to speak….
Michael: This is your inheritance, son. Take good care of her… The land is like a woman. You have to attend to her, pamper her and watch over her…. In time, she will give her best fruit.
Jesus: Michael and his son had to go on an urgent trip. So they decided to lease the land to a group of tenants…
Michael: My friends, I trust in you. Take out the bad weeds, sprinkle some fertilizer, water the vineyard, prune the shoots and then at harvest time gather the grapes and press them in the winepress. On that day, we shall have a grand celebration!… So long, I leave everything in your hands. Okay?
A Tenant: All right, master. Don’t worry, we shall take care of the land like it were our own child.
Michael: Thank you, my friends. So long! Horse, let’s move, c’mon! Hiyaah!
Jesus: A month had passed and another and another. Then came harvest time…..
A Tenant: Look how beautiful the grapes are, guys!… They’re as big as melons…!
Another Tenant: Yeah, let’s cut the bunches and have them made into wine!
Another Tenant: Then let’s all drink and have fun!… Yippee!… I’ll get drunk tonight like old Noah! And let the deluge come, for all I care… Ha! Ha!
Jesus: The harvest was abundant. The clusters of big sparkling grapes were pressed, filling the buckets with sweet and foamy wine.
A Tenant: Hik! Hey, you, Acaz, there’s a guy looking for you… He wants to see the foreman of the vine growers… Hik!
Another Tenant: I’m the foreman here. Hik!… Let him in, and let him stuff himself with all the grapes he wants. There’s enough for everyone here….. Hik!
A Messenger: Good morning….. Señor Michael, the owner, sent me… He sends you his greetings….
Another Tenant: Well, send him our greetings too….
Messenger: …..and he wants me to tell you to collect your salaries as agreed upon, since the grapes must have been sold already, and that the rest of the harvest must be given to me…
Tenant: How’s that again?…. Hik!….. I didn’t quite hear you….!
Messenger: ……since the grapes have already been sold, and…..
Tenant: Sold?….. We have drunk and eaten them, that’s it, but nothing has been sold….! Ha, ha, ha…..!
Another Tenant: Hey, don’t be a killjoy…. go away and leave us in peace…
Messenger: But…. I……. what shall I tell my master?
Tenant: Master or no master!… Tell him not to bother us, please… for we’re too busy…. and sleepy too…… Ahuuuummmm!
Jesus: So the messenger told his master about it….
Michael: It’s my fault. I sent you without a letter signed by me, and of course, they must have thought that you were a smooth talker or spy……
Messenger: Maybe sir, they have a story to tell….
Michael: Okay, don’t worry. I’ll send another messenger next week, to collect the money from the harvest…
Jesus: And the other messenger arrived in the vineyard….
Messenger: Señor Michael, the owner has sent me. He’s sending you his regards. You may look at his signature on this tablet.
A Tenant: Well, send him our greetings too…
Messenger: …and he asks me to collect the proceeds from the sale of the harvest….
Another Tenant: There goes the same old story again! Pff!…. What a bore! Doesn’t he have any other story to tell?
Messenger: Well, since the land is his, he wants….
Tenant: His?…. Did you say “his”?…… Ha, ha, haha! Did you hear, fellas?…. This is his!…. Ha, ha, hahay!….
Messenger: Wait a minute…! Ahggg…! Wait! Look at his signature here…
Tenant: Eat that tablet, yourself!…… and enjoy it too!
Jesus: The owner of the vineyard could not believe what happened…
Michael: But how could that be possible…
Messenger: But it happened. Look at my bruises, sir….
Michael: I don’t get it! There must be some confusion. I’ll send another messenger, and the third time will be lucky, as they say.
Jesus: So another messenger went…
Messenger: I came on behalf of my master, Señor Michael, the owner of this farm and he says that…….
Tenant: Hey, fellas, here’s another one!….. Come, let’s give him a nice beating! Ha, ha, ah…….!
Messenger: But, I…..
Another Tenant: No buts. Here take it, snoopy! Don’t pity him…!
Jesus: Soon enough Michael learned about it…..
Michael: What the hell is happening here? Who do these tenants think they are? We made a pact, but they broke it.
Messenger: It’s my ribs, sir, they have broken…. I don’t think I have any bone left in place….!
Michael: I’ve had enough of it. Right now I’m sending my son to put things right.
Messenger: Be careful, sir…. these men are not only thieves, they are also murderers…
Michael: Don’t worry, they will respect my son, of course!
A Tenant: Hey, look, isn’t that the master’s son coming?
Another Tenant: This is the height of it!…. Either the master is stupid or he is nuts! Ha!
Another Tenant: Wait, wait a minute…. Let’s all be rational. He’s the heir of all this land…. If we are not nice to him, then we lose all this food and our work.
Tenant: Ha, ha, ha! What an imbecile you are, blondy! Hasn’t it occurred to you yet? This is our chance! He’s the heir…. if we get rid of him, then no one will remain in this land except us…! Do you get the point, idiots?… We shall be the owners of the land!… So, fellas, let’s do it fast and clean!
Jesus: So the tenants lay hands on the owner’s son who was insulted and spat upon, beaten and kicked out of the vineyard. After inflicting such brutalities on him, they cut off his head with a sharpened knife, like they do to lambs…
A Woman: Has this thing ever happened before? Where?….. in the north?
Jesus: In the north and in the south. It’s happening right here…. C’mon, grandpa… try to remember…. the last line of your song is something like this…. “Hear the end of my sad song…”
Zither Player: Oh, yes, now I remember! Wait a minute, prophet, it’s now coming back……
Hear the last part / of my sad song / God entrusted his vineyard / to the leaders of Israel / he expected justice / but reaped only abuses. So I’m suing them / and taking the vineyard from them / to be given to the poor / because the others have been corrupt tenants / and now they will know who I am!
Jesus: Very good, grandpa, very good. So there goes the end of the story. Yes, God is the owner of the land and will demand an accounting from this band of robbers, the leaders of our country; and the vineyard shall be handed over to us, the poor people of Israel.
A Priest: Are you insinuating something, you cheating Nazarene?!
Jesus: Nothing new, my friend. The old songs of our country are as clear as the morning sun. You know the song we sing during these holidays. The stone rejected by the builders was chosen by God to strengthen the corners in the topmost part of the building. The builders did not see the value of the stone. The tenants did not listen to the messages of the owner of the vineyard. You, leaders of Israel, are like them: blind and deaf. You don’t forgive those who criticize you. When the prophets came, you beat them and persecuted them, and even ridiculed them. John came and you silenced him, until finally, you had him beheaded. And now…
Another Priest: And now what?!
Jesus: And now you want to do the same with the son: you want to kill him.
The silence that ensued was broken by a shout of one of the priests:
Priest: Did you hear him?! He says he is the son of God!… Everyone has heard the blasphemy!!….. That’s blasphemy! That’s blasphemy!!!
The priests rushed toward us, screaming like mad. With stones they picked up in the street, they began to hurl them at Jesus, who was covered by the crowd as it retaliated against the Sanhedrin leaders and members. Stones rained on all sides. It was a moment of great confusion. Finally, we were able to mingle with the swarm of foreigners who were beginning to engulf the streets, and left the city.
Inside its walls, in the Street of Doves beside the Temple, the old zither player with the white beard continued with his song…..
Zither Player: People of Jerusalem / inhabitants of Judas / come and tell me: / what else could I do / for the vineyard that I sowed? / what more could I offer it?
In the Old Testament, the vineyard was a symbol used oftentimes to represent Israel, the people of God (Is 27:1-6; Ps 80:9-17). The song sung by the old zither player in this episode is the “song of the vineyard” (Is 5:1-7), a poem composed by the prophet Isaiah before he started his preaching, probably on the occasion of the harvest. It is one of the major literary texts in the entire Old Testament. Grape planting, which is typical of Palestine and the neighboring countries along the Mediterranean Sea, demands special care. Isaiah speaks of this special care in his poem. The clearing of the land, the construction of the watchtower and the winepress, etc., are symbolic of God’s care and affection for his people.
Aside from the official singers and musicians serving in the Temple of Jerusalem, from the religious class (Levites), experts in various instruments (flute, harp, drum, trumpet, etc.), there were also street singers in Jerusalem, like the old man in this episode. Even to this day, this group still exists in many towns and villages. The songs and poems eventually become the collective memory of the people. Through these verses, they transmit from one generation to another the life and sentiments of the people. Before these were written, a number of great literary works in the ancient times were sung and orally transmitted by roving minstrels.
The parable of “the evil tenants” may be read as an allegory where each of the elements of the story has a meaning. God is the owner of the vineyard, which is Israel. The messengers send by the master to collect the fruits of the harvest are the prophets. Jesus is the son of the owner. The tenants who rejected the messengers are the religious leaders of Israel, who seek to defend their sole interests, under the guise of false fidelity to religion. In order to attain this, they vilify, defame and even murder the prophets who expose their misbehavior.
Jesus often stressed the difficult mission that the messengers of the Kingdom had to face. He said they would be like “lambs among wolves” (Mt 10:16). He warned them of doors being shut in their faces, of their being accused as heretics, of their being charged in tribunals, and their being killed. This had been the fate of the ancient prophets, and will continue to be so for the artisans of justice of the Kingdom. Not all persons vilified and persecuted are prophets, but all true prophets are always vilified and persecuted. Such persecution is a guaranteed sign of the authenticity of working for justice’s sake. The contrary – a road full of roses and comfort – would mean a betrayal of the gospel, no matter if proclaimed in the Lord’s name (Lk 6:26). Up to this day, the prophets are still being persecuted, tortured and murdered. This unjust world rejected by them is “not worthy of them” (Heb 11:35-38) and the hope in the new world which they are fighting for sustains them amid all their sufferings (2 Cor 4:7-15).
This parable speaks of the inconceivable patience of God, which is due to end. The time has come – Jesus says in this story – when the limit has been reached and God will seize the vineyard from the leaders of the country and give it to “others.” These “others” are the poor, despised by the religious institution, those who matter only because they are many in numbers, those who pay their tithes, and comply with oppressive laws. They will be the heirs of the vineyard. Isaiah’s song is a sad one, something that reflects betrayal. The religious leaders of Israel have been unjust, have oppressed the handicapped, resorted to violence, and monopolized the harvest… So the Lord had to decide: the leaders are out and the heirs shall be the poor.
The title “son of God” attributed to Jesus marks the continuity of his mission along the same line as that of the great prophets of Israel. He presents himself before his people and before the religious as God’s final messenger – the son of the owner, who fully knows the owner’s will – who likewise affirms, in a definite manner, the plan of the Father. God’s patience is over: God shall relinquish the vineyard to the poor, who in turn will sow, and collect the harvest, so that they may live.
In talking about the stone chosen by God to become the cornerstone of the building, Jesus makes reference to some verses of the solemn psalm of the Passover (Ps 118). The psalm tells us how God is able to change things: the stone rejected by the builders is given the most important place by God. Jesus, the poor man, is the cornerstone. The poor are the stones for the building (1 P 2:5). The psalm ends with an expression of marvel: “This is the work of God, and we marvel at it.” God’s decision is amazing. It is the very essence of the gospel: The last shall be the first, the outcasts shall be the chosen ones.
(Mt 21:33-46; Mk 12:1-12; Lk 20: 9-19)