There are times that I really appreciate a good wine. My wife prefers the sweeter variety but for me, a good Cab with a steak or a soft Merlot with some pasta is the way to go.
Great wines are the product of great care. A great winemaker is always concerned about his vineyard. Throughout the year, he provides the greatest care possible. It is a yearlong process to produce the perfect grapes which then can be made into that perfect wine. He takes care of his vines with the proper pruning, proper fertilizer and water. As harvest draws closer, he checks the sugar content so he can harvest at just the right time. A great winemaker is in love with his vineyard. He takes care of his vineyard with the finest detail in order to have the best possible wine.
The heading of our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 5 in most Bibles calls our text “The Song of the Vineyard.” As the song goes on, it is clear that the farmer loves his vineyard. “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard” (5:1).In this song, God is the vineyard owner and the children of Israel and the men of Judah are the garden of His delight. God has cared for them throughout the centuries. Everything God does concerning them is done with great care and love. Isaiah says the vineyard is on a fertile hillside, which is Jerusalem.
Notice the attention to detail Isaiah says the caretaker has for the vineyard. Nothing was spared to make it fruitful. As is in that area of the world, many vineyards were planted in rocky and hilly soil. The exertion to dig it up, to gather up all the stones and to terrace the vineyard with them easily demonstrates how hard God has worked. This is like the Napa Valley of vineyards. God devoted Himself in taking care of the Israelites, His chosen people.
Isaiah tells us that after God had done the hard work of establishing the vineyard, He hired laborers to care for it. These laborers are the teachers of the faith, the caretakers of this vineyard. But despite planting the choicest vines, the best of best kind of vines, despite careful attention from the vinedresser … the labors, the teachers of the faith fail to do what they need to do in order to keep the vineyard operating and peak capacity. And because of this, instead of the finest grapes, the vineyard only produces “wild grapes.” The vineyard’s failure to produce good fruit, better fruit has forced the owner to remove His care. The result of this is that the Israelite people are exiled to Babylon. If the land was unable to produce with proper care, what would it do without any care?
Jesus in the gospel reading for today uses the same imagery of a vineyard. Jesus tells how a man planted it. He put a wall around it, dug the winepress, and built a watchtower to protect it. He then rented it out and went away on a journey. But when harvest time approached, this owner sent out servants to collect the vineyard’s fruit. The tenants who were taking care of the vineyard saw these servants coming and beat one, killed one, and stoned a third. The owner sends more servants the second time and the same thing happens. In a final effort, the owner sends his son, believing they will respect him. Instead of respecting him … they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
Jesus asks the religious leaders what will the owner do, what will he do with the tenants? They said, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest” (Matt. 21:41 NLT). Looking for grapes … for precious grapes … the owner instead got wild grapes … and they threw out and killed His Son too.
But here’s the thing … as much as it may sound like the texts from Isaiah and Matthew are about a vineyard … they’re not. They are parables. They are earthly stories with a heavenly meaning.
Isaiah in verse 7 says, “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of His delight. And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress” (5:7). The Lord very much loved His Israel. He even calls them “the garden of His delight.” The Lord planted the Israelites in the Promised Land to do good works, to specifically bring justice and righteousness to all people, even to those who don’t know who the Lord is. But instead of doing works of justice and living lives of righteousness … their works were evil and brought about bloodshed and cries of distress. Instead of bearing good grapes, they produced “wild grapes.”
Here today … you and I … we are the people of God. By God’s grace, you and I are His “pleasant planting”, His garden of delight. We are made to be this through our baptism, through the hearing of the good news, of the gospel message of God’s love shown to us through Christ, and through the professing of Jesus as our Savior through our lips.
The Church is God’s planting. The Church is God’s vineyard. It’s not “our” church at all. God does the work for His church. He prepares the soil of the vineyard, He plants the seed, the seed of faith. God plants the seed of faith, of His Word in your hearts at baptism. Just like He did last week with Emelia and will this week with little Harvey. God lovingly helps us grow up in faith through His teaching and preaching and through His precious supper. It’s God’s work in us!
And in return, from this outpouring of so much grace and mercy that our cup overflows, God looks for you and me to produce “good grapes”, to produce “good fruit.” He looks for you and me to produce good works for His delight. This pleasant planning of the Church is centered solely in God’s son, Jesus. It is centered solely in the beloved One who lived, died, rose again, and gives to you and me His Holy Spirit. Jesus says in John 15, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. … Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (15:1, 5). Being connected to the vine, being connected to Christ … we are truly blessed. Blessed beyond measure.
But we don’t always bear those “good grapes”, that “good fruit” do we? We don’t always bear good works. Instead of bearing “good grapes”, you and I bear “wild grapes”, “sour grapes.” We give in to doing what I believe is right for me. My truth, my outlook on life … that is what leads and guides me … not God’s Word. I look out for me and don’t worry about what my words or actions may do to someone else. I look at those who don’t agree with me as being below me. Instead of righteousness and justice for all people … it’s all about me, my ideals, my philosophies, my position.
We fall into the same patterns and lifestyles as the Israelites of old, of the religious leaders of Jesus day, and of everyone else who has ever lived since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin. The soil in which we plant ourselves is tainted with sin and it’s overgrown with weeds.
Being choked by the weeds of sin, there is nothing left for us to do but to cry out. Cry out with the words of Psalm 80. “Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, the root Your right hand has planted, the Son You raised up for Yourself. … Let Your hand rest on the man at Your right hand, the Son of man You have raised up for Yourself. Then we will not turn away from You; revive us, and we will call upon Your name. Restore us, O LORD God Almighty; make Your face shine upon us, that we may be saved” (80:14-15, 17-19).
In the midst of your cry … know, believe that God does hear you. God hears you because He loves His vineyard, He loves you. God has grafted you in, He has connected you to the true vine, to Jesus. He graciously provides you with all you need to bear good fruit, to bear good grapes.
Let God use you. Let Him help you grow, bear good fruit, be a fine wine so that others may share in His goodness and love. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.