The former minister, press secretary and veteran journalist works his way through Christian allegory and lessons from our nation’s history in fashioning this powerful essay on the American experience and the stewardship of democracy.
In the parable, the “tenants” are the leaders of Israel. They hoard the fruits of the vineyard for themselves, instead of sharing the fruits as the covenant teaches, according to God’s holy purposes. And the holiest of God’s purposes, ancient tradition taught, is helping the poor, and the fatherless, and the widow, and the stranger—all who do not have the resources to live in a manner befitting their dignity as creatures made in God’s image, as children of God.
When he finished the story, Jesus asked the people what the owner of the vineyard will do when he comes back. “He will kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others,” Jesus tells them. In the Gospel of Matthew, the people themselves answered: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
Political dynasties fall from negligent stewardship. One thinks of the upward redistribution called “tax relief”; of the Iraq invasion sold as critical to the “War on Terror”; of rising poverty, inequality, crime, debt, and foreclosure as America spews its bounty on war and a military so muscle-bound it is like Gulliver. It would be hard to imagine a more catastrophic failure of stewardship, certainly in the biblical sense of helping the poor and allocating resources for the health of society. Once upon a time these errant stewards boasted of restoring a culture of integrity to politics. They became instead an axis of corruption, joining corporate power to political ideology to religious self-righteousness.
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