This week’s lectionary passages are difficult.
Isaiah, the Psalmist, and Jesus all point to God as one who uproots unfruitful vineyards, an analogy not only for Israel but for any disobedient people of faith. On the surface, this hardly seems an encouraging message of a graceful God.
As I read these passages the first few times, it felt like an obstinate child hitting the reset button on a Nintendo. I felt this way because, well, I’ve been that obstinate child. Whenever I was losing in TECMO Bowl or got eaten by flowers in Mario Bros. I would immediately hit the reset button and start the game over. Wipe the slate clean because I was angry at the way the game was going. Is this really how God deals with unruly people?
Not at all. Resets ignore the past mistakes and destroy all the evidence. But when you overturn a vineyard and let nature run its course, you let the good nutrients in the plants replenish the ground. You let the wild animals come through and fertilize. You let the decomposition of old stuff foster new life for a new vineyard. This isn’t spiteful destruction or a child’s reset button, but a commitment to restoration.
Of course, this requires change. It requires the death of the old and a loss of control on our part. But what is the loss of a fruitless life? What is the death of selfishness and deceit? Especially when compared to the new life in Christ, the kind refreshed by baptismal waters and nourished by Christ’s own Body and Blood, we come to see that sometimes we need our stones overturned, our vines torn asunder, not because God is abandoning us, but as an Edenic Gardner, God is tending creation toward the end of blessed fruitfulness.
This does not necessarily make the trampling of our own gardens joyful or even comprehensible. But it does make it worth it.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.