The Perfect Vineyard and the Sucker

As disciples of Jesus we start to include the disenfranchised, to raise up those who have been beaten down and seek justice for all who have been treated inhumanly or unfairly. At the same time, we strive for equity where the poor and needy have enough and the rich and powerful do not have too much. Disciples of Jesus who live in this manner are seen as . . .  authentic individuals.

The Perfect Vineyard and the Sucker

Isaiah 5 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.

3And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?

5And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

The narrator of the text is presented as a troubadour who sings a love song about a vineyard for his beloved. It’s supposed to be a love song. And it is but a love song without a happy ending.

Like the proverbial suitor who intends to request the hand of his beloved in marriage, the beloved wants everything to be exactly right. A great wine coming from a carefully planned and cultivated vineyard is the vision. The right land is purchased and prepared for planting including removing stones, which I imagine being piled around the edges of the field; then the nursery stock is selected, purchased and planted. A watch tower and a wine vat are constructed vineyard. By reading further in the story we learn that a protective hedge is planted and a wall is built around it.

Planning and a tremendous investment is made to bring the vision to reality and fruition. There is a vision, a long term vision at work in this story. I find the image at work a way to talk about the salvation history of the children of Israel, God’s chosen people. The vineyard is the Promised Land, a land of high hopes and expectations. The obstacles for the children of Israel to be planted there are removed, a religious culture is constructed that provides protection and a way to process the produce. Everything has been envision, planted to perfection and provided – everything.

And somehow, despite all this investment the vines themselves, go wild. They can’t resist the attraction of what’s is available on the other side of the hedge. That appears to be a euphemism for cross fertilization with vines not under the protection of the hedge and watchtower. Isaiah gives us his version of Israel’s taste for promiscuous relationships like what we read between the faithful husband Hosea and his promiscuous wife, Gomer.

The idea of loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is foreign to them. Others continue to worship the Lord at the temple and go through religious rituals, but they don’t allow their religion to affect their daily lives. These people are wrapped up in themselves. They live unjust and uncaring lives as they ignore the poor and needy.

And it breaks God’s heart. The hope for the future, the beloved’s hope for producing a great wine are dashed. And despite all the investment of time, resources and care he destroys what he created. He lets it go wild, – un-tilled, overgrown with briers and thorns and with out rain becomes a desert. Isaiah ends this picture with this description “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry! Kenny Rogers recorded the post Vietnam song Ruby – “Ruby” he sang “don’t take your love to town”. That’s the song for this unrequited love.

Isaiah’s Chapter 11 is a complete contrast to Chapter 5

Instead of an immaculately planned and executed vineyard we are given quite a different image. Salvation comes quite unexpectedly from a shoot growing from the stump of a long thought dead tree, a sucker that if allowed to grow offers salvation. An adventitious shoot is a form of horticultural propagation and it produces a clone of the original tree. God circumvents the years of the United Kingdom and the Divided Kingdom during which justice, equality and righteousness disappeared from the land. The years of whoring after other Gods – it’s retro – as if God repented of allowing politics to run the nation. Listen:

11A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious

The root of Jesse? Compared to the perfect vineyard it’s helpful to be reminded that Jesse’s great-grandmother was Rahab, a Canaanite harlot. He was the son of Obed, the son of Boaz and the Moabitess Ruth. Jesse was the father of eight sons, one of which was David. And it’s from that genealogy that a sucker grows from the root. We already know what became of David’s kingdom on his death – it was forever broken in two.

Abandoning the vision of the perfect wine from the perfect vineyard God announces hope arising from in a much simpler place. The stump might appear dead but from the long buried roots of God’s promise to his chosen, his beloved, salvation comes. What enables the sprout to become messianic is this

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

There is a wonderful word of hope in this. It doesn’t grow from perfect planning and perfect execution – it occurs in the work of the Spirit. This worthless sprout from a long dead tree, with the Spirit of the Lord resting on it becomes the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might. Justice and equality will be the marks of a world transformed. It fulfillment is the vision of the peaceable kingdom.

This is a powerful description of the work of Christ’s Spirit in our lives.

Certainly we have gone our own ways and declared our independence. We are constantly tempted to follow the false gods and idols of this world. Even though we hear Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me,” we get wrapped up in ourselves and ignore the needs of others. The Lord doesn’t allow us to stay in this condition. As the Christian cliché goes, “God accepts us where we are at, but God doesn’t allow us to stay there.”

 

The transformation process from wild grapes to Spirit directed life is long and sometimes painful.
The first thing the Spirit does is illuminate the accumulated filth in our personal lives, and according to Isaiah our corporate and national life as well. The Spirit shows us what needs to be changed and that promises to move us from our comfort zone—to walk new paths and learn new things. The creative Spirit of Christ will change our attitudes toward individuals and groups, the “others” our our experience, undocumented aliens, immigrants, refugees, those who identify with the LBGT community, even those of other religious traditions such as Muslims. The Spirit might convict us of the harmful effects that our words and attitudes have upon others and might convince us that change is needed. The changes that occur in the king and in the followers of the king, allow transformation to take place in the world. No longer are words and actions based on outward appearances. Our first impressions of others, especially those who are different from ourselves, usually stress the differences. Seeing beyond outward appearances allows us to recognize similarities. Similarities facilitate the building of relationships.

The transformation process begins. As disciples of Jesus we start to include the disenfranchised, to raise up those who have been beaten down and seek justice for all who have been treated inhumanly or unfairly. At the same time, we strive for equity where the poor and needy have enough and the rich and powerful do not have too much. Disciples of Jesus who live in this manner are seen as righteous (not self-righteous) people of integrity and authentic individuals. There is also a faithfulness in these disciples. They are consistent in their service and strong in their convictions.

We live in a broken world. The Spirit of God is upon us so that we might be changed and in turn share God’s love and grace and change the world. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

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