This is the second parable in Jesus’ reply to the Jewish religious leaders question concerning the source of his authority. While Jesus openly challenged the attitude of the religious leaders of his day in this reading, the Spirit uses Jesus’ words to speak to us today, also.
In the parable, the tenants were given a task: to tend the landowner’s vineyard while he was away. The tenants refused to acknowledge who they were: tenants. They did not want to acknowledge that the fruit of the vineyard belonged to the landowner. They didn’t accept the authority of the landowner. Their lack of respect of the landowner’s authority is reflected in their response to those who came in the name of the landowner: they abused and even killed the landowner’s servants who came in the landowner’s name. In what ways do we, as church, act as if we are the final authority, the landowners, rather than tenants of God’s vineyard?
In the parable, the goal of the tenants is to produce fruit for the owner of the vineyard. The last person the landowner sends is his son. The tenants decide to kill the son so that they can own the vineyard with all its fruit. When do we, as church, deny Jesus’ authority by choosing to focus on the fruit of our labor rather than paying attention to how out labor fits into God’s larger work in the world?
In this parable we learn about Jesus’ authority. Jesus is the son of the landowner. We also learn about Jesus’ authority through the analogy of the cornerstone. The purpose of a cornerstone is to be the beginning and foundation of a building. This cornerstone that the builders, some of the Jewish religious leaders, rejected is powerful: those who reject it are crushed or broken. How can we, as church, remember who we are, whose we are, and whose vineyard we are tending in order to more fully live into Jesus’ authority?
In today’s gospel, the Jewish religious leaders are concerned about the source of Jesus’ authority to teach. These leaders know that if the prophet or teacher is speaking on God’s behalf, then that prophet’s or teacher’s message is trustworthy and should be acted upon. According to Jewish literature, there are four ways of responding to authority. We see two of these options in the parable.
First we see a way of responding to authority in which one first rejects the authority but later reconsiders and obeys the teaching. The first son in the parable said “no” but then reconsidered and did what he was told to do. This possible response calls us to humility: when have we, as church, at first rejected God’s authority and command, but later changed and lived accordingly?
The second way of responding to authority is to seem to accept the authority but not really accept it as binding. The second son in the parable said “yes” but then did not do what he was told to do. This possible response asks us to be honest with ourselves: in what ways do we, as church, say that we respect Jesus’ authority but don’t live it out with our actions?
The other two ways of responding to authority were being lived by the people that Jesus either speaks to or about after the parable. The third way of responding to authority is seen in the religious leaders: They have shown by their answer and their lives that they do not accept Jesus’ authority. They are consistent in their “no” to Jesus in word and action. But the fourth way of responding to authority is seen in the lives of the people whom the religious leaders consider to be outside the boundaries of the community. They are consistent in their spoken and lived out “yes” to Jesus’ authority and, as a result, are living in right relationship with God. This possible response calls us to look outside our gathering. Who do we, as this community of the church, marginalize even though they say “yes” to Jesus’ authority and live into this “yes”? How can we offer these Christians hospitality?
 See Wendell E. Langley, SJ, “The Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32) against Its Semitic and Rabbinic Backdrop,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 58/2 (1996): 228-243.