« IndietroContinua »
The personal description of the son as given by one of the historians of the parable, in particular, represents him as the well-beloved of his father-for this natural reason, that he was his only son. The condescension of the father in sending his only son, and the condescension of the son in being willing to be sent, would have been entitled to the highest praise, and been exemplified in a striking manner, had there been no reason to apprehend any danger to the safety of the messenger even from the fact of the mission itself. But how is our admiration of the condescension of both these parties increased, when we reflect, that in voluntarily sending his son, to bear his last message to the husbandmen, the father was voluntarily exposing his only son to the risk of certain danger; in voluntarily becoming the messenger of his father to his refractory tenants, his only son was voluntarily exposing himself to almost certain death! The experience of the past was sufficient to prove that, after the treatment which the servants of the owner had uniformly received from his tenants; and after the proof which had thus been given of their principles and disposition—and the lengths to which they were capable of proceeding in the same career of violence and usurpation ; no one, not even the son of the owner, and the heir of the vineyard, could go to the husbandmen on the same kind of errand as the servants, without the same risk to his safety, or even greater personal danger than any before him. Yet does not this consideration deter the father from sending his son, nor the son from being willing to be sent, on the mission in question; though the father in sending, and the son in consenting to be sent, had before their eyes the failure of the mission of the servants, and only too much reason, from the operation of the same kind of causes, to anticipate the same kind of effect, in his instance also.
The failure of the mission of the servants, indeed, is so far from acting as a dissuasive to the mission of the son, that it is the very cause, by implication assigned in the parable, as the reason which produced it: a reason, founded upon this principle, not that the master of the vineyard had no more servants belonging to his household, besides those whom he had already sent, and consequently no more to send, if he pleased, still; but that he had sent so many, in the capacity simply of his servants, and so many, as the event had proved, in vain, that it was clearly useless to send any more for the same purpose. If the obstinacy of the husbandmen was still to be overcome, it must be, not by the mission and ministry of another of his servants, but by the instrumentality of some one, who, though he might go to the husbandmen upon the same errand as the servants before him, should come in the possession of superior personal influence, and greater personal authority, from a nearer relation to the owner than any servant had yet sustained. Nor was any one, personally distinct from the owner of the vineyard, yet capable of coming in his behalf, combining the authority of a master with the office of a servant, to be found except in his son. And hence St. Mark, speaking of the motives which actuated the father to send his son, after the mission of the last of the servants, but still before the mission of the son, expresses himself accordingly: “ Having, “ therefore, still one son, his own beloved one, he “ sent him also unto them, last.”
The son, then, whatsoever might be the superior dignity of his personal relation to the master of the household, yet so far as concerns his vicarious relation to the owner of the vineyard, in coming to enforce his rights, would come for the same purpose as one of his servants, and support the same character as one of them. There was no difference between his relation to the owner and theirs, except in the order of the mission on the one hand—that the son came to the husbandmen in such and such a capacity last, the servants had come to them in the same first; and in the personal dignity of the messenger on the other—that the former messengers had come in the capacity of the servants of the lord of the vineyard, this last one comes not only in the capacity of his servant, but in the character of his son, and of the heir of his vineyard also ; the latter elevating him as highly above the level of his fellowmessengers, as the former appeared to place him on a par with them. And as the husbandmen could not but acknowledge the truth of the character of servants, in the former messengers of the owner, even while refusing to listen to their message ; so are they as little disposed to deny the reality of that relation of son, in which this last of his messengers appears, even when meditating and compassing his death. They recognise him as the heir of the vineyard, the moment they see him; and they take advantage of the opportunity afforded by his appearing in that capacity, to make away with him immediately, that his inheritance might become their own—that the only future owner of the vineyard, who was entitled to it by right of descent, being thus removed, in the absence of any other claimant, it might remain undisturbed in their hands, who had already usurped the possession of it.
The mission of one servant, if that had failed of the desired effect, might be followed by the mission of more; but the mission of the son, as he was an only son, on the same supposition, could be followed by the mission of no other. The death of one servant, too, should the violence of the husbandmen proceed to that extremity, might not be irreparable in its .consequences, if there was still a possibility, by the mission of another, of bringing them to a sense of their misconduct, and of inducing them, by repentance and submission, to offer reparation to the lord of the vineyard, not only for their original offence in resisting the assertion of his rights, but for the injury done to his messenger; but the death of his son, were that also to be added to the number of their offences, would be an excess of provocation that must leave them without hope of forgiveness, and the lord of the vineyard without the power of redress from any submission which they could offer, or any satisfaction which they could make, for so grievous an outrage.
Like the catastrophe of a tragedy, then, the course of whose events has been gradually passing from one stage of wickedness to another the death of the son, however naturally to be expected under the circumstances of the case, was the acme of a series of the same kind of crimes, the worst and most atrocious of all—the climax of repeated aggressions, committed by the husbandmen against their proper lord and master, compared with which every former injury done to his rights might appear slight and venial. After this most decisive proof of their obstinacy and impenitence, and this most cruel of all the injuries which they had inflicted upon hiin, it was impossible, if their master retained any power and authority over them, but that the punishment which had been deserved by their former offences, and only suspended, in the hope of repentance and amendment on their part, by means of forbearance and patience on his, must fall with redoubled vengeance on their heads.
The mere deprivation of the vineyard, and the mere loss of their personal relation of the tenants of the owner, which they had hitherto sustained ; could be no adequate punishment for a cumulative amount of guilt, like this. These consequences, penal as they might be, would justly have ensued upon the first instance of the breach of their covenanted duty, as tenants, and upon their first denial of his covenanted rights, as the landlord ; though their misconduct had gone no further than the simple forgetfulness of this duty, and the mere refusal to acknowledge these rights. But for the extraordinary offences of which they had been guilty, so much beyond this—for not only withholding from their master the payment of his dues in their seasonbut denying his authority over them—turning a deaf ear to his entreaties—despising his remonstrances—wearying his patience—insulting, abusing, and slaying his servants—entrapping, circumventing, and murdering his son, in the hope of forcibly securing to themselves the possession of his property ; infinitely more would be due to the injured party, in the way of redress, and therefore