Scripture for this Sunday:
Isaiah 5.1–7 (Isaiah tells the story of the vineyard gone wild);
Hebrews 11.29—12.2 (examples of faith, and the cloud of witnesses);
Luke 12.49–56 (Jesus predicts division).
The Bible is full of meaningful little stories – not just the parables of Jesus, but plenty of other analogies that describe the relationship between God and humankind. The prophet Isaiah tells a story of a vineyard to describe the frustration and disappointment felt by God with regard to people who have been invited to share a special, close relationship with God that ought to come to fruition with grapes of righteousness and justice. Instead, God finds only wild grapes that are not exactly the point of planting the vineyard.
Jesus renews the promises of God to the people, promises that will be extended beyond the original vineyard. Yet even in his own time, he could see signs of wild grapes appearing, leading to divisions between people within their own families, within the family of followers – and within the followers themselves.
We are inconsistent beings, as a result of which we don’t always live up to our own hopes and expectations, never mind those of God. As Goethe wrote: “The hardest thing in the world is to act in accordance with your thinking.” All this division, both internal, and especially between members of the community of faith, is sad, because our wild grapes spread suffering, rather than the intended grapes of righteousness and justice.
Like those people to whom Isaiah gave the example of the vineyard, we know what we are supposed to do. We also know what justice involves. We can read the words of the prophets calling for care of the vulnerable – not just widows and orphans, but all those in need. We can hear the words of Jesus, that we should love our neighbours as ourselves, with no boundaries on neighbours. We can read the accounts of the early church, forging a community of mutual care based upon love and compassion for one another. Some people like to dismiss such care, labelling it “socialism” or something similar. I usually send such people off to read the second chapter of Acts. We might preach messages about Jesus’ peace, but others might wonder at our personal and institutional practices, noticing the cracks of division between our words and our actions.
And our individualism blinds us to the opportunity not to try to do things alone. Sporting analogies are not everyone’s cup of tea, but the letter to the Hebrews talks about running a race – and a race in which we are part of a team. The letter speaks of those who ran the race without ever seeing the result – yet we are able to see the example and teaching of Jesus, which signifies a new stage in the race and gives us all a boost. Our role is to run the race to the best of our ability, carrying as many others with us as we can, and following the team leader as faithfully as possible. And we do indeed have a great cloud of witnesses egging us on.
We have been given ample opportunity to be part of a fruitful vineyard, the vineyard of the people of Jesus – to produce good fruit of justice and peace, not wild grapes.