Rent or own? This is a common question people ask of their financial advisors when they weigh the liabilities and benefits of homeownership. This question, however, involves more than merely financial considerations. Being a tenant or being an owner shapes how we inhabit our dwelling places. Homeowners can do anything they want to their homes: building additions, knocking out walls, or conducting extensive remodeling projects. With this open-ended freedom, however, comes the serious responsibility of maintaining the property in all its complexity. When big things go wrong, the owner is on his or her own to fix them.
Tenants, on the other hand, cannot do whatever they want to their rented homes or apartments. They must respect the owner’s purposes for the space that they are essentially borrowing. Then, of course, there is the matter of rent. Renters owe something to the property-owner in return for use of the property. On the upside, when big things go wrong, the tenant is off the hook. It is the owner’s responsibility to fix the leaky roof or the broken furnace.
All of this is no doubt familiar to you, but these basic truths of renting and buying attain a much greater significance when we consider the parable the Lord Jesus shares with us today. By that parable He reminds us that, most fundamentally, we are all tenants rather than owners in this life of ours. Indeed, everything we have and are is on loan to us. The Lord is the ultimate owner of all that He has made. In His superabundant generosity, He shares what is His with us. What does He ask in return? What yield does He demand from us as tenants? The answer is, quite simply, praise.
Loving praise seems like a pretty small return for being given literally everything. Yet, despite this, we very often neglect to render the Lord His due. Forgetting to praise Him, we can easily slide into the poisonous attitude of the tenants in our parable. We become tenants who think we are owners. Worse still, we come to see the true owner as our rival and enemy.
So much goes wrong when we understand ourselves as owners rather than tenants. Just last week, Pope Francis promulgated an Apostolic Exhortation on the environment, Laudate Deum. This document and its sister Encyclical, Laudato Si’, strive to show the ecological devastation that follows from understanding ourselves as free-wheeling owners of the Earth rather than its stewards and tenants. This attitude is not just toxic for the environment. It is corrosive to family life and culture at large. Whether we are running roughshod over ecosystems for the sake of economic progress or reengineering marriage and family to suit our ever-shifting preferences, we behave like tenants who knock down the supporting walls of their own rented house, heedless of the wise plan and purposes of its architect and owner.
The good news is that the true owner of our common home is ready to forgive the damage we have done to ourselves, His beloved creation. He has come in-person to set things right. Christ calls us to join Him in repairing the mess we have made of what He has entrusted to us. We begin by giving Him His due. We begin by praising Him. From this place of praise, we become ready to allow Him to restore all that we have and are to the glory He intended for us from the beginning.
Rent or own? The answer turns out to be our salvation. We are tenants, bad tenants in fact, but beloved by our landlord nonetheless.