Matthew 21:33-43 | 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Jesus’s Version of ‘The American Dream’
I’m working with a student right now who is writing a paper on two authors and their definitions of the American Dream. It’s started me thinking: what is the American Dream? These two authors differ wildly in their definitions, but the stereotype of the American Dream seems to be home ownership. The roots of the settling of the American West all the way to American suburbia trace can be traced to the belief that everyone is entitled to claim ownership of a piece of land.
Jesus wants us to think twice about that.
In the Parable of the Tenants, Jesus wants His listeners to think of themselves as tenants, renters. We do not own anything. Everything, including the house we may or may not have purchased, is on loan to us through the goodness of God. While I don’t think God has a problem with the human concept of “home ownership,” He expects us to recognize that even “ownership” is really a loan.
The tenants in the parable viewed the land in terms of squatters’ rights. They were the ones there doing the work. The owner was out of sight, out of mind. So, when the owner did exactly what he said he was going to do, exactly what was in the terms they had agreed to, the tenants rebelled. The longer their rebellion continued, the more powerful they felt. They justified their authority to themselves. So, when the owner finally sent his son in his stead, the tenants, who now believed they had more right to the son’s inheritance than he did, killed the son to claim it.
This parable made me think back to the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. The nub of the issue for the workers was comparison—I got what I agreed to, but was it my fair share relative to those people over there? The tenants in this parable have also gotten what they agreed to, but like the rest of humanity, they want more. They won’t be satisfied until they own the whole hog.
That’s all of us, and the paradox is there is no whole hog. There is always more to the hog. We can never own the whole thing, so by human logic, we can never be satisfied; we will never have enough.
But God’s logic isn’t human logic, and if we can get off the human crazy train (no mean feat), and rest in His bounty, we can finally understand that we only feel we have enough when our eyes are on Him. The minute we try to take it into our own hands, the hole deep in our soul yawns wide again.
Mere tenants on this earth, we inhabit it for only a little while. In appreciation for His gift, we are expected to work the land and share the bounty. It might not be the American Dream, but it’s the only way we’ll truly be happy.