The book of Isaiah is so full of hopeful references to “good news for the poor” (61:1), the “Prince of Peace” (9:6), the “wolf dwelling with the lamb” (11:6), and “Immanuel” (7:14) that it has been named by some as the fifth Gospel. Indeed, the writer often sounds more like a hopeful evangelist than a dour prophet. But the surrounding circumstances cannot be denied. The northern kingdom of Israel has been assailed by Assyrian invaders. That national calamity sets the stage for a parable delivered through a love song.
Like the parables of Jesus in the Gospels, this love song uses vivid images to draw us into its story of hopeful promise and then tragic disappointment. Picture a carefully prepared plot of ground, the best vine rootstock for planting, a fence and a lookout to guard the produce, and even a winepress in anticipation of fine vintage. Imagine the keeper’s expression when he first tastes the bitter yield. There is nothing to do but abandon the field. Now we are ready for the surprise ending: The people of God are a foul harvest. They have produced injustice and misery instead of righteousness. All appears to be lost.
It is tempting to correlate a point of reference for every element of the story, but we are wise to remember that the concluding summary is the point. God delights in justice and cultivates that principle in his people so that they will carry it into the world. The prophets’ lessons lift up kingdom values that are both a blessing and a responsibility for those who receive them.
Like Israel, we have to decide how we respond to God’s righteous nurturing, tending, and cultivation. Those choices come in large and small ways throughout our lives.
Today, Lord, I am aware again of the responsibility I have to live as a recipient of your grace and truth. Help me to be alert for the ways I can demonstrate your kingdom in the world. 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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