Wild Grapes in God's Vineyard
Prayer of Hope:
Lord of All,
You remain faithful when all others have fallen away. Your steadfast love for us all is a daily miracle. We give you thanks, for your love and your patience with our shortcomings. Lead us to show this same love to those with whom we have built our lives. Amen
Lesson: Isaiah 5:1-7
Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watch-tower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What 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?
And 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.
I 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.
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!
This reading is typically called “The Love Song of the Vineyard.” One might expect from that title that the song would be something light, something akin to The Carpenters’ “Close to You,” or one of the wonderful love ballads crooned by Nat King Cole or Johnny Mathis.
Not so much. This song is an intentionally thinly-veiled allegory about Israel’s unfaithfulness to God’s commands, and the wrath which arises in God when God discovers that they are growing “wild grapes,” instead of good ones. God threatens to allow the vineyard to be “trampled down,” laid to waste, since it will not produce the fruit for which it was planted.
These are harsh words. This is a picture of God which those of us who also claim the New Testament or Christian Scriptures don’t tend to like very much. We see a mean and punishing God, who visits wrath upon those who disobey.
Make no mistake, though: this is a love song. It is the song of a love so deep that the loved one’s betrayal cuts the lover to the core. God’s anger is a righteous anger—the anger of one who has created, tended and nurtured human beings, and been forced to watch as they start wars with one another and oppress those who are without power (the ones whose cry is raised to God in the last line of the lesson). God is angry, true enough, but it happens that when you love someone deeply and want the best for that person, you become angry when the object of your love does things which are dumb, like starting wars and oppressing others. This isn’t a sign of lack of love; it is a sign of the depth of love. While the lover threatens to give up the loved one, to turn the vineyard into a “waste,” we know that this never happened. God never abandoned Israel, though Israel was sometimes overrun by conquerors like the Assyrians and Babylonians.
Lessons like this one are meant to explain why Israel couldn’t simply remain dominant throughout her history. But they do more than that, because underneath this picture of God’s wrath is a reminder to those of us who know the whole story: that God never did remove the vineyard’s hedge, that God never did give up on the people of God. God continues to love us, even when we stray far from God’s intention for our lives.
It’s a different sort of love song to be sure—one more akin to Shakespeare’s surprising Sonnet, number 130:
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
This is probably the most delightful of the love sonnets; a portrait of love so real that it looks beyond blemish and remains steadfast. Such is the love which we receive from God.
Prayer of Joy:
God of Love,
We rejoice that you have tended us and helped us to grow. You never leave us, even when we stray far from your commandments. We thank you for your constancy, and for teaching us the love which sees all, yet loves always. Amen