If any brought charges against me in a court of law, I’m sure you’d hear a quite of few of these statements being entered into the records:
“He was very giving, especially with the things he wanted.”
“He was faithful, but only to himself.”
“He was caring to a fault, but his fault was always being at fault.”
I bring this up because today we’re going to look at two very similar passages from the Old and New Testaments. One reads like a letter written to an unfaithful lover. And the other is like a mirror that reveals the results of infidelity to the one caught cheating.
There aren’t many passages in Scripture as heartbreaking as these two which expose God’s wounded heart.
In Isaiah, God laments over creation wondering “What more could I have done.” And in Matthew God bemoans, “Surely, they will respect my son.”
The takeaway in both passages seems simple: the Kingdom of God will be given only to those who bear God’s good fruit.
But as we know, that’s not always as simple as it sounds. For what are the grapes Isaiah speaks of? What is the harvest the son comes to collect? Justice and righteousness. This is what God expects. How we define that is left up to us. That’s when it gets messy.
You may have noticed both passages begin with a sense of hopefulness and promise. But they quickly turn into having charges brought against people for not producing these fruits.
If we’re being honest, this indictment could be handed down to any one of us. I think it’s safe to say we’re pretty good at producing wild grapes. We might look good and delicious on the outside. But inside, we are sour, bitter, and good for nothing. God has expectations for creation, especially for those put in charge of its care.
I just read a story about a woman who rented a guesthouse through Airbnb back in 2021. She’s been there now for nearly 550 days…and hasn’t paid a single penny of rent. I don’t know her story. Or what her intentions were when she moved in. What I do know is when we enter an agreement like renting an apartment, or ordering a meal at a restaurant, there are certain expectations put in place. Payment is usually one of them.
Although God is not demanding rent, the life we have receive from God comes with certain expectations. Like Isaiah pointed out, God has cultivated a perfect garden to grow amazing and faithful fruit.
What God expects from us isn’t mere faith but a bountiful harvest of faithfulness. If we’re not growing God’s righteousness and justice in us, then we’re not living into God’s expectations for this world.
When we live by our own set of rules instead of God’s, we’re no longer living in sync with God’s power. And as a result, we are no longer a part of God’s providence.
“Justice and righteousness are not things we practice for extra credit,” writes James Burns, “they are the main point. God is not content until the blessings we receive are shared fairly with all. If this fruit is not produced, the consequences may be that God allows us to have our own way and leaves us to our own devices.”
This is what Paul describes as the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18). That is, God gives you up to your sin. You don’t have to be a religious scholar to know receiving God’s wrath is never a good thing.
As we can see from his parable, Jesus knows what humans are capable of doing when God is absent from our lives. Although Jesus doesn’t issue judgment in this story, he does execute justice.
When he asked his listeners about what the vineyard owner should do with those vicious tenants who killed the Son, the Pharisees answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and lease the vineyard to someone who will give him what is due.”
If Jesus were to give you an opportunity to rule on your own behalf, how would you judge yourself? Would your first thought be with violence and vengeance? Or would it be righteousness and justice?
Here’s the thing. What we want from God, and dare I say, what we expect from God…is exactly what God wants and expects from us. When we ask God for forgiveness, mercy and grace, God expects us to be forgiving, merciful, and gracious too.
When given the chance, the chief priest and the Pharisees indict themselves. Realizing what Jesus did, they runaway in fear, plotting to kill him as a means to shut Jesus up. Again, we should not be so quick to judge their actions. We may not have killed Jesus, but we are guilty of rejecting him in many ways.
How many times have we ignored the plea of someone in need, looking at their situation with harsh judgement, or worse with apathy and indifference? We hear the cries and see the bloodshed but do nothing to remedy and redeem the situation. We see this at our borders. We see this in our inner cities and schools. We see it in our churches.
Let’s face it, we’ve all been negligent at heeding God’s voice just as we have neglected to care for the ones whose faith or social status or skin color isn’t like ours. We’ve all been guilty of breaking God’s heart every time we ignore the heart of one another.
The worst part about all this isn’t that we’re hurting God’s feelings or condemning ourselves, but instead we’re stopping God’s love from growing in us. We’re allowing it, along with our faith, to wither and die on the vine.
Now we can look at today’s passages and feel ashamed of what we have done. Or we can look at them as inspiration to awaken our hearts; an invitation to reclaim our faith and redeem ourselves with God.
Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…” He then tells his disciples, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:4-5, 8-10).
When we abide in Christ, we abide in God. And with God abiding love in us we are able to cultivate, nurture and grow the fruit of God’s love within us.
The prophet Micah reminds us of what the Lord expects from us “but to do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously” (Micah 6:8 MSG).
The Apostle James sums it up by encouraging us to, “be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:19-22).
Paul was a little more profound when he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:2)
According to Jesus the metrics by which our faithfulness to God is measured are found in our everyday acts of tending to the needs of the least of these our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25:31-46).
I say all this, so that you will go out in the world, as sons and daughters of God; planting, and nurturing and growing God’s righteous and just love throughout Anamesa.
In the space between yourself and everything else, God has prepared an amazing vineyard called life. God has chosen for you a very fertile hill. The soil has been tilled, the rocks removed, and the very best vines have been planted.
God performed all this careful attention with one hope, that you and I will tend to this land and produce the most excellent grapes.
God gives us the freedom to cultivate and nurture this greatness.
But if we ignore what God expects, replacing God’s vines with violence, then we will only produce more violence. The same is true when we plant racism, ignorance, and division.
When we cultivate God’s love, we grow and reap more of the same. Righteousness begets more righteousness. Justice begets justice.
And so, if we plant Christ within us, then what will grow in us but the very fruits of God’s glory.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A Vol 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”