Isaiah here turns to a second “mode” of announcing God’s message to the people of Israel/holding up a mirror to the people of Israel (two-part process). Here he chooses to sing them a kind of parody of a grape-harvest song. You know the sorts of hymns we sing at Thanksgiving, “Bringing in the Sheaves” – what if we wrote a hymn about a harvest that failed? What a shock it would be. This is what Isaiah gives us here – the harvest God planned and planted for has failed. He planted good stuff (very fancy grapes indeed) – he planned and planted for justice, and righteousness, “peace and plenty” – and what he has found instead are bloodshed and wailing and crying – very sour little mean grapes indeed. So what happens now? What will God do when his vineyard betrays him, lets him down, disappoints him? What is the plan now?
We hear that plan – and we hear it again from a different angle in the Psalm – now we hear the cry OF the spoiled vineyard, a cry for relief and repair and restoration.
I suggest to you that the two readings are like what we see with our two eyes – now we have something like 3-D view of the problem; we cry out for help for our own harm; and the harm that we have done or allowed to happen also cries out for help – for healing and repair. We have met the enemy as Pogo said, and he is us – we are in trouble and we ARE trouble. So mending the vineyard is not going to be a swift or simple business…messy, and painful, and a long chain of catastrophes and grief.
Now the writer of Hebrews takes a different approach (a thematic approach) to what we call “the history of salvation” – his attention is on the common element of faith/fulness in the characters of this history (far more than are mentioned here but so it is)… and therefore he focuses more on the activity of those who are in and of the vineyard, the people of Israel, those who have had faith in God. We get a summary of the long struggle with the vineyard, but now we consider people, biographies, careers. And the paradox of their struggle to bear good fruit, not to be obliterated by (all that preys upon the vineyard) is not resolved. The job isn’t finished, in their lifetimes.
Now all the way along, I think we are nudged to think, as we are reading, or hearing, “Oh this is about us. This must mean us.” And that can be pretty presumptuous, but there is a sense in which it is one of the right responses to Scripture. Here in many ways we do see a predicament we recognize…we long for happy endings. We want to see the problem solved, the answers complete, the wounds healed, the battles won, the treasure found…(maybe especially difficult in our time because we have been given lots of drill in being discontented)…and we don’t see that complete resolution (even though there are moments of great joy and great satisfaction).
And yet, says the writer of Hebrews, the promise remains, and remains trustworthy; the vineyard plan was, and remains, the good plain, the “best idea ever.”
And the question comes back – how do we LIVE in the spoiled vineyard—we live in it in FAITH. That means living among witnesses – all these characters who are our companions in faith – and our models of faith – and often our reasons to have faith. In their company, we persevere. We run our race…I think the image here is of something like a rely race, we carry forward what we have been given, without expecting tht we’re the “last leg,” that we’re going to make it all the way to the tape – what we have to do is take the good news of the kingdom of God, the promise from those who gave it to us, and pass it along; wht we’re not allowed to do is to head off cross-country, or decide to do shot-put instead, or quit. This relay is like the labyrinth (ask the question????) – not a maze – but a confusing course where the only failure is to stop running, to stop walking, to stop trying to bring about what we will not live to see (olives)…
Our work is repairing the vineyard – but not alone, not all on our own – and therefore it is noisy, and divisive, and full of conflict. That conflict, that setting us at odds with each other, is not the purpose of Jesus’ coming, but the inevitable result…how we respond to his coming IS judgement, not on him but on us…prayer of poor/rich in contrast. And the conflicts that tear us are the human response to the nearness of the kingdom and the power of the promise, the vision of the kingdom…portents – blips on the radar – that are reasons to be more faithful, more courageous, more gentle, more hopeful…