In today’s reading, Asaph, a temple musician in Jerusalem, observes the Assyrian invasion of the northern kingdom of Israel. Ten tribes are being swept away, leaving the southern kingdom of Judah exposed to the foreign threat. It is a great tragedy that shakes their faith foundations.
Under such dire circumstances, grief overtakes the writer. He begins by recounting Israel’s favored history of Exodus and the United Kingdom of David and Solomon. They believed they were God’s vine—that God had transplanted them from Egypt and cultivated their growth and fruitfulness over the years. With that collective memory, the people react to God with shock, denial, and anger: “Why did you let this happen to us? Why have you permitted foreign vermin to ravage your vineyard?” The demand for answers then pivots to a bargain never to fail again: “We are the vine you planted that now is being torched. Return your favor to us and we will never turn away again” (AP).
We can relate to these words of desperation. It could be any number of circumstances—a lost job, a failed relationship, or compromised health. Suddenly the landscape changes, and we desperately rehearse the past and wonder how things changed so dramatically for us. Then come the alternating jabs and pleas to God: “Awaken!” “Why?” “We promise!” We turn the words over and over. They become our lament.
The thread of hope that runs through the psalm—the hope that the people hold on to—is our hope as well. Like the Israelites, we believe we are God’s vine and therefore that God is invested in us. The vine may require pruning (see John 15:6); but in troubled times we find, and maintain, hope in the One to whom we belong.
Today, Lord, I claim my identity as part of your vineyard, and I accept seasons of growth and pruning that you permit. Help me to deeply and fruitfully claim that identity. Amen.
Isaiah compares the people of Israel to a vineyard that God has planted. However, the grapes that grow there have become wild. There is no justice, no right living in the vineyard, so God is considering letting it be destroyed. The psalmist uses the same metaphor to bemoan the state of God’s people. The vineyard has been overrun, burned, and cut down. The psalmist appeals to God to restore the vineyard. The author of Hebrews presents many more examples of people of faith in past times. All these exemplars now surround us and cheer us on in our life of faith. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus cautions that following the gospel requires full commitment. For some, this will mean tension in relationships, even within families. Following Jesus is not a commitment of convenience.
Read Isaiah 5:1-7. Recall a time when you lovingly prepared a place. What would prompt you to destroy it?
Read Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19. How has God restored you when you have been at your most vulnerable?
Read Hebrews 11:29–12:2. Who makes up your personal Faith Hall of Fame? How does each person cheer you on in your spiritual journey?
Read Luke 12:49-56. What does it mean for your life of faith for Jesus to have come to bring division?
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