Monday, October 2, 2017

First Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, October 8th, 2017

I sit to write this post on Monday, October 2nd.  Last night, the worst mass shooting in the United States (to date) took place in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I pray for the victims of the shooting, their families, the people who responded to the shooting and the injured, the hospitals who received the victims, and the shooter and his family, who are left to wrestle with the questions of why, how, and for how long.

At the congregation I serve, we are also holding a "Blessing of the Animals" service on Wednesday, October 4th, the day that the Church commemorates St. Francis of Assisi.  Perhaps your local congregation also offers a "Blessing of the Animals" this week.

For those who may be stumbling onto this blog for the first time, I will put the Bible readings (NRSV) down below.  I will add my initial thoughts in italics after each reading.  I invite you to ask any questions that arise in your mind and offer any insights you might have by leaving a comment below (or, if engaging this through Facebook, asking the question in the comment section of my Facebook post).

Isaiah 5:1 - 7

1Let me sing for my beloved
  my love-song concerning his vineyard:
 My beloved had a vineyard
  on a very fertile hill.
2He dug it and cleared it of stones,
  and planted it with choice vines;
 he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
  and hewed out a wine vat in it;
 he expected it to yield grapes,
  but it yielded wild grapes.

3And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem
  and people of Judah,
 judge between me
  and my vineyard.
4What more was there to do for my vineyard
  that I have not done in it?
 When I expected it to yield grapes,
  why did it yield wild grapes?

5And now I will tell you
  what I will do to my vineyard.
 I will remove its hedge,
  and it shall be devoured;
 I will break down its wall,
  and it shall be trampled down.
6I will make it a waste;
  it shall not be pruned or hoed,
  and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
 I will also command the clouds
  that they rain no rain upon it.

7For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
  is the house of Israel,
 and the people of Judah
  are his pleasant planting;
 he expected justice,
  but saw bloodshed;
  but heard a cry!

In Isaiah 5, the Lord found “wild grapes” in the vineyard.  Rather than the sweet grapes that were planted, the Lord found sour, bitter grapes that could not be used for wine or for jams/jellies/fruit spreads.  The vineyard is a metaphor for Israel; the grapes represent the people.  The Lord did everything to ensure that the vineyard of Israel would sprout and bloom, but the people have changed to another type of people that are inedible/unusable within the Kingdom of God.  So the Lord will deconstruct the vineyard/allow the exile to happen.  The good news is that the people return from exile and the Lord builds a new vineyard.

Psalm 80:7 - 15

 7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
 8 You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.
 9 You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.
 10 The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches;
 11 it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River.
 12 Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
 13 The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it.
 14 Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine,
 15 the stock that your right hand planted.

Psalm 80 recognizes that the Lord brought this vine from Egypt and planted it in the Holy Land.  The Lord has cared for it and caused it to grow.  But now the people are confused, because they see that the Lord has removed the protective wall from it.  The deconstruction has begun.  The people beg the Lord to “tend this vine; preserve what your right hand has planted.”  The psalm ends with the people promising to worship the Lord if the Lord will give them life and restoration.

Philippians 3:4b - 14

4bIf anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
  7Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
  12Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul declares that he was the best of Jews and could claim righteousness under the Law.  Now, though, he views such righteousness as “skubula” in the light of the “(righteousness) that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God based on faith” (NRSV).  It is likely that we could also translate the Greek to say “(righteousness) that comes through THE faith OF Christ…” How would this change our understanding of the passage and what St. Paul is claiming here?

Matthew 21:33 - 46

[Jesus said to the people:] 33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
  42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: 
 ‘The stone that the builders rejected
  has become the cornerstone;
 this was the Lord’s doing,
  and it is amazing in our eyes’?
43Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
  45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

In Matthew 21, Jesus speaks of another vineyard, perhaps drawing a direct comparison to the vineyard of Isaiah 5.  In this vineyard, the quality of the harvest in not mentioned, but we can assume that it is a good harvest with high-quality grapes, and the vineyard owner wants his share.  The tenants, however, conspire with each other to keep all of the harvest for themselves, even killing the vineyard owner’s son to prevent him from claiming what belongs to the family.  Continuing the line of thinking in Isaiah 5, the tenants must be the political and religious leaders of Israel who appear to value power and prestige instead of their service to the Lord and the people.  A question that arises is whether these leaders are cast entirely out of the Kingdom of God or if they have merely lost their control over the operations of the vineyard.

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