Signpost for Sunday 14 August, 2016: Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56.
Even a Philistine like me cannot fail to be overwhelmed by today’s Isaiah passage. To think that its beauty has come down through three thousand years, and translation from an ancient to a modern language cannot conceal the sheer poetry.
Isaiah was drawing on a traditional song of the wine harvest to describe God’s relationship with Israel and Judah. Verses 1 and 2 are a quote from that traditional song which would have been sung by a woman, metaphorically referring to herself as a vineyard, about her male beloved. Woman were particularly responsible for the music-making at ancient Israel’s vineyard festival (Judges 21:15-25), their songs typically concerning matters of love and fertility. The descriptions of digging, clearing and planting the vineyard refer metaphorically to acts of lovemaking – the expected yield being grapes. or children. However, the prophet at the end of verse 2 re-interprets the vintner as God and the vineyard as Israel and Judah, and on we go from there.
“Like the greatest images of the Bible – like the parables of Jesus for example (one of which, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, was of course a further re-interpretation of this passage) – it unlocks a timeless and multi-applicable truth. It can, as the poet intended, be a lament for the Israel that has forgotten its standards of justice and compassion, standards to which it was called, standards that were supposed to make it stand as a beacon amongst the foreign and so-called godless nations. It can stand as a parable of humanity, the theoretical crown of creation that with all its gifts and all its intelligence has not learned to live in peace and harmony either with creation or with itself. It can stand as a parable of the Christian community, founded centuries after the song’s first airing, that considers itself to be the bearer of new insights into and new access to the gracious and forbearing, forgiving love of God, but which still fails to live up to the high demands of the way of humbleness, the way of the Cross, to which it is – we are – called.”
If you think the previous paragraph is rather better expressed than my usual efforts, you are right. It is taken (with permission) from a sermon preached by Michael Godfrey, formerly Vicar at Christ Church.