Charles Dickens’s last completed novel was Our Mutual Friend, published in 1865. Like all his novels, there are tons of characters and plots and subplots. In this novel, Dickens portrays a dark and macabre London.
The book opens with a man rowing a boat on the Thames in the dark of night. He’s looking for dead bodies floating on the water to see if the dead person has any money in their pockets. When his daughter asks him why he does such a thing he says: “Has a dead man any use for money? What world does money belong to? This world. How can money be a corpse’s?”
The main plot centers around a great inheritance. This fortune was made from dust heaps. Society people are presented as shallow people just concerned with facade and money. There’s a couple we meet and eventually we find out that they married each other because they thought the other person had money, only to find out after the wedding, that neither of them has any real money at all. They are furious with one another saying to one another: “You tricked me!”
It’s always raining, and the descriptions of what the Thames riverside must have looked like back then are very grim. Money corrupts people, and the desire for wealth ends up in nothing but dust heaps.
Dickens portrays a very dark world to make a point, and that’s what Jesus does in his parable about the vineyard.
In the Gospel, the landowner, who planted the vineyard, presupposes that hired tenants can be trusted, that additional servants will be able to do the work they were hired to do, and that, when all else fails, treacherous people will at least respect the sacredness of the relationship between father and son. In short, the landowner was only looking for some common decency. He didn’t find any.
Think of the enemies of Jesus as they are portrayed in the Scriptures. They were people who said they were religious, but deep down they rejected God. Their hearts were about their ambitions and their drive for power. A drive that was so strong that they’d kill anyone who got in their way. They said they were plotting to kill Jesus to preserve their religion, but their real intention was to secure their power.
Why does Jesus present us with such a dark picture of the world in this parable? To remind us that evil does exist, and that to get caught up with it can have dangerous consequences. We might think, “I haven’t done any of the things that Christ describes”, still we must be careful. It often starts with just a smidgen of selfishness, a measure of misunderstanding, a casual disregard for the least among us. These not-so-noble inclinations can lead us into evil if we are not careful.
So, all this “heaviness” today reminds us to be careful—of our intentions, our priorities, our hidden agendas. If we show disrespect for the Son of God and ignore his commands, it’s serious business. Don’t let darkness and evil into your lives. And when things in our world are not what they seem, we can’t just consent and go along. We must turn our thoughts back to God.
I mentioned earlier that we must be careful about having a casual disregard for the least among us. I come back to this because this week is Respect Life Week. It’s so easy to become numb to the basic teachings of our Faith concerning the sacredness of human life. It also reminds us of making sure we have a sense of objective morality, which means that we acknowledge that there is a right and wrong which goes beyond what an individual thinks personally. And we are called by Christ to live out the Gospel message as best as we can, following the whole message and not just picking and choosing which beliefs we are most comfortable with.
Let me leave you with these lines from our Prayer for Respect Life: “Help us to realize the sacredness of human life and to respect it from the moment of conception until the last moments at death. Give us the courage to speak with truth and love and with conviction in defense of life. Amen.