Into the Fire: Broken Expectations

Pentecost 13C: Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-56

Isaiah’s love song in 5:1-7 about his beloved’s vineyard—a vineyard for which his beloved worked hard—ends in 5:30, so we only brush the beginning of this allegorical poetry. Even though his beloved worked hard clearing stones and planting choice vines, the vineyard yielded wild or sour grapes. “Why did it yield wild grapes?” He laments over the outcome, asking what more he could have done.

Tear the vineyard down, he will (in Yoda voice).

Isaiah has duped us! “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel.”

An allegory?!? Who saw that coming?

While the Lord expected justice, the Lord saw bloodshed; expecting righteousness, the Lord heard a cry.

Pushing this allegory well-beyond its limits, let’s speculate what exactly the Lord will do to Judah, the “pleasant planting.” Perhaps they will be cut down violently by an enemy tribe. Maybe by a natural disaster like a flood—it wouldn’t be the first time. Or might this whole “love song” be a guilt trip of prophetic proportions?

One thing we know is that the Lord, the vine dresser expected to find a bountiful vineyard and instead found hir* hard work to have been all for nothing.

*”hir” a non-specific gender pronoun, used here to refer to “Lord.”

Turning to our friend Pat, we peak in on hir long-winded letter to the Hebrews in 12:2 to find hem (did you catch that one?) reminding hir readers about Israel’s escape from Egypt, the Battle of Jericho, and Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel…

…use rhetorical appeals much, Pat?

Pat concludes this list of examples saying that, “though they were commended for their faith, [they] did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.”

Pat thinks a lot of the Hebrews and hirself—without them, the cloud of witnesses would not be made perfect.

What exactly was the “something better” that God provided? Was it Pat and the Hebrews? Is Pat referring to Jesus the Christ? Or is Pat simply reducing the witnesses’ pain of God’s broken promises?

As we found was true for God in Isaiah—that God expected one thing and found another—we realize that all of those believers who had passed before the mid-1st century lived their entire lives without seeing the payoff from their faith in God.

Henri Nouwen wrote that, “Our life is full of brokenness...bitter relationships, broken promises, broken expectations. How can we live with that brokenness without becoming bitter and resentful except by returning again and again to God's faithful presence in our lives?”

A good question indeed—one we ought to ask ourselves day after day after day.

The Rev. Curtis Farr is the assistant rector of St. James’s Episcopal Church. He blogs for St. James’s every Wednesday, offering reflections on the readings of scripture from the upcoming Sunday.

Into the Fire is a weekly contribution to the creative and imaginative process of interpreting the black and white fire of Scripture. Using an adapted process of Midrash, the author includes historical/cultural information, personal anecdotes, and other theologians’ ruminations on selected passages from the upcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings. All are welcome to journey into the fire by using the comment sections on the blog itself, or on Facebook or Tumblr.