The Narrative Lectionary points us to Isaiah 5:1-5 and Isaiah 11:1-5. The Gospel reading is Mark 12:1-3. In my series on Prayers for Spiritual Awakening, I’m focused this week on the purpose of God and how it is revealed in the texts this week.
Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard Isaiah 5:1-7
Chapter 5 of Isaiah begins with a parable about a loving Father who has given to his beloved son a beautiful place for a vineyard. The description is quite vivid. Even if one does not know much about vineyards and the process of growing grapes, there is still an impression that everything that was needed was in place. The son created an excellent environment for the vineyard by clearing stones, planting, placing a tower, and in expectation of fruit digs out a winepress. This appealing story takes a turn as the Father asks for a judgment to be made. In spite of all of the efforts made to present a spectacularly fruitful vineyard, it yielded worthless grapes.
“What more could I have done for my vineyard than I did? Why, when I expected a yield of good grapes, did it yield worthless grapes?”Isaiah 5:4, CSB
Because the vineyard was not fruitful as was expected, this light and beautiful story becomes a damaging judgment. The hedge will be removed, the vineyard consumed and trampled. Not only that, the future doesn’t look promising as the vineyard is abandoned, overgrown, drought-stricken.
Isaiah explains, “For the vineyard of the Lord of Armies is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah, the plant he delighted in. He expected justice but saw injustice; he expected righteousness, but heard cries of despair.” – Isaiah 5:7
The plants in the vineyard were men God delighted in, but his expectations of them were disappointed when they failed to live up to their purpose of Justice and Righteousness. These are two key themes developed throughout the Bible. Instead, he found injustice and despair.
Isaiah 11:1-5 reminds us of the mission of Jesus. He will not be like the men of Israel and Judah. Instead, he will live a life that will be characterized by righteousness and justice.
Righteousness will be a belt around his hips; faithfulness will be a belt around his waist. – Isaiah 11:5
Jesus lives into his purpose and God is pleased. Even as he lives out the perfect life, he observes injustice all around him. He tells a story in Mark 12 about a man who plants a vineyard. It is similar to Isaiah’s parable. The man does everything he can to plant and care for a vineyard. He rents it out and later sends a servant to collect some of the fruit of the vineyard.
This story of Jesus also has a surprise ending when the tenants of the vineyard beat the servant and send him away empty-handed. The Narrative Lectionary doesn’t call on us to finish the story, but stops there (likely because we are going to revisit this parable March 15, 2020). This another story about another vineyard, but the result is the same. Unrighteousness and injustice.
When we live into God’s purpose for our lives, we will be ultimately concerned with injustice and righteousness. Whatever specific applications one may make of those terms, we certainly see that God has expectations of us in this area. It seems to me that overarching themes will include:
*There is injustice and unrighteousness in the world around us. Pain is real. Hurtful circumstances exist that bring misery and suffering.
*God’s people have a purpose to reach out with His love to help create a world where there is relief for the suffering ones and hope for the hopeless.
*God’s people have often failed in this purpose and God is not pleased with this failure.
*Jesus is God’s answer to the hurting world and our hope is to embrace all that purpose.
Following Jesus’ example of loving the hurting, reaching out to the rejected, and caring for the overlooked is what will produce the fruitful vineyard of the Kingdom that Jesus came to create.
You’re invited to join in the shared resources and discussion of the Narrative Lectionary texts each week in my Facebook group Narrative Lectionarians.