In today’s gospel readings, Jesus tells a parable about tenants in a vineyard who do not respect the owner of a vineyard. At harvest time, the owner sends servants to collect his produce but the tenants kill the servants. Eventually, he sends his son, thinking they will respect him, but they also kill him and try to take his inheritance. Jesus asks his audience, what will the vineyard owner do to the tenants when he comes? His listeners state that punishment will come to those who do not respect the owner of the vineyard. This story prefigures Jesus, who although he comes to bring good news to the people of God, is rejected, tortured and killed.
Jesus’ answer is also a bit of a challenge to the too simplistic answer that his listeners offer. Where they can only see torture and punishment for the ones who killed the son, Jesus says that the rejected stone will become the cornerstone. Jesus is quoting Psalm 118:22, a line from a Psalm of praise. In that Psalm, the singer describes a situation of being hemmed in on all sides by enemies, people who wish to do harm to the speaker. But this person attacked by enemies and seemingly without any power to defend himself knows that the Lord will be his protection instead. God is the one in whom he can trust.
Jesus does not disagree that God will come to bring justice to situations of injustice where people are actively harming others. Injustice will not last. But this can take time, and meanwhile, Jesus tells us to trust in God. Indeed, God has the power to take terrible things and transform them into something good. Rejection can become the cornerstone for the building up of something good and beautiful. Jesus’ death will not simply be an occasion for God’s punishment. Rather, it will become the foundation for the creation of a new community and for the redemption of human beings through God’s merciful love. Thus, what looks like only death and punishment is, in fact, an occasion for God’s creative power and love. From suffering springs new life.
St Paul offers practical advice for us when we are in times of distress or need: ask God for assistance. We must place our trust in God to provide and rely entirely on God, when human beings will not. “Then the peace that passes human understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7). Where other human beings fail to provide comfort, God will provide comfort. Where others are unjust, God will not only be just, but will provide a peace and serenity of heart that goes beyond ordinary peace. This peace is not a peace that is the absence of war, or the absence of distress. It is a peace that overflows the heart, a peace that no human being can bring us, a peace that we know comes from God alone because that peace is a kind of participation and entry into God’s secure and comforting love.
Thus, in times where others around us are cruel and unjust, we must continue to act to choose what is good and not act unjustly in turn. While we cannot control whether others are loving and kind, or vindictive and cruel, and while we remain vulnerable to suffering, we can trust in God redeem the situation. God is our peace, a peace that no human being can bring. And when God sends us his peace, then we are also better able to offer that same peace to others, and make space for something new.