Engaging the Word: Readings for 8/14/16 (The 13th Sunday after Pentecost)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary.

In this week’s readings, Isaiah speaks of Israel in the parable of the vineyard, the author of Hebrews tells of heroes of the faith, and Jesus speaks of the divisions that discipleship may bring.

Workers in a vineyard, illuminated manuscript, c. 1510. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Workers in a vineyard, illuminated manuscript, c. 1510. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Isaiah 5:1-7: Our passage this week is known as Isaiah’s “Song of the Vineyard,” a parable composed during the reign of King Jotham (750-734 BC). God is likened to the vineyard keeper and Israel to the vineyard. It starts out as a love song to the devoted keeper of the vineyard but turns into a trial and indictment. The vineyard keeper makes every effort to ensure a bountiful harvest, clearing the land, tilling, and planting choice vines, but it yielded wild grapes (literally “stinking things”). The keeper summons the community to “judge between me and my vineyard. “ He then tells of his plan to destroy the vineyard. He will remove the protection of its hedge and wall, and it shall be overgrown with briars and thorns. In verse 7, Isaiah reveals, “The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting.” He goes on to an adroit play on words: the Lord expected justice (mishpat) but saw bloodshed (mispah); hoped for righteousness (tsedaqah) but heard a cry (tse’ aqah). Despite all God had done for them, the people had broken their covenant and did not live holy lives; their city was destroyed in 586 BC and the people were taken into exile. God’s judgment is not revenge; it’s the terrible consequences of his people’s sinful behavior.

God’s judgment, however, is never the last word. Although it’s not in our lesson, we can skip ahead 22 chapters to 27:2-6 for a new song of the vineyard. Here Isaiah looks forward to the day when God will again care for the vineyard: “Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots, and fill the whole world with fruit.” Maybe it was not his intention, but here (and in several other places, too) Isaiah gives a wonderful foreshadowing of the new life in we find in Christ.

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18: In Psalm 80, we hear the people’s desperate cry to God to “stir up your strength and help us.” Again we have vine imagery—Israel as a vine planted by God, and the vineyard is the promised land. The psalmist prays, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”

God inviting Christ to sit on his right hand by Pieter de Grebber, 1645. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

God inviting Christ to sit on his right hand by Pieter de Grebber, 1645. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2: This week’s reading tells of individuals in the Bible’s “Hall of Faith,” or as the author says, “so great a cloud of witnesses.” The author gives a remarkable list of the heroes of the faith from whom Christians can draw strength—the people who passed through the Red Sea, the battle of Jericho, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets, and so on. The point is that all these ancestors were active in their faith, and obedient to God, even though none of them actually lived to see God fulfill his promise. It’s this quality of trust in God and obedience to his will that enabled them to persevere when the going became tough. Some suffered imprisonment, torture, and death.

The author then urges his readers to “lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Fire sculpture outside the Tate Modern. Public domain, via Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Fire sculpture outside the Tate Modern. Public domain, via Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Luke 12:49-56: Jesus says he came to bring fire to the earth, and division to households. At first this seemed so harsh, but then I remembered a friend of mine said that fire is a symbol for the Holy Spirit—think of the tongues of fire at Pentecost—and I mentally translated it as “Jesus said, ‘I came to bring the Holy Spirit to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!’” That sounded much better to me. However, when I checked my two major scholarly study sources*, they both say for this verse that Jesus is talking about the fire of judgment. So I don’t think it’s good idea to rewrite scripture because the words are unsettling. The Interpreter’s Commentary says the fire upon the earth could suggest either punishment or purification. On the Internet, Chris Haslem says: “Fire” here is a symbol of purification and separation of the godly from the ungodly.” For us, I think our job is to decide how we respond to Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Whenever scripture makes me squirm, it means I have work to do.

Jesus then makes a poignant statement about his coming “baptism,” his suffering and death, which shows his full humanity: “…and what stress I am under until it is completed!” All too often I forget how difficult Jesus’ mission was.

When Jesus tells the crowd that he has come to bring division in households, many of us know how true this is. Some members of our households, based on sincere conviction, may not accept Jesus. For me, with God’s help, I live out my loyalty to Jesus, and entrust my loved ones to God. When love and respect are present division need not mean strife.

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