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Proper 22A 1st Reading

Isaiah 5:1-7

Megan Krebs

“I’m not angry with you. I’m just disappointed.” Perhaps no worse verdict has been rendered. Disappointment carries a tone of expectation, particularly unmet expectation. To bear another’s disappointment is an enormous weight. It is the weight of becoming small in their eyes.

The problem with expectations, however, is that they are often based in our own desires for someone or in some situation rather than reality. They are often unfair and end in disappointment. It can be a small idolatry to impose our expectations on others. A friend of mine often speaks of “managing expectations,” of learning to root desires in realistic expectations.

Here, Isaiah writes of something worse than unfair expectations. Here, Isaiah sings of his Beloved—YHWH—and his Beloved’s vineyard. By beginning with a declaration of his love for the Lord, Isaiah also inevitably pits himself against the vine in this parable. A vineyard is planted in the belief that the plants will do what they are meant to—grow and produce their fruit. The planter in this prophetic parable works as only a farmer can. He digs down, clears stones, and plants with care. He builds a watchtower and digs a winepress.

What results is a dramatic turn from the planter’s expectation. The vines do not yield fruit. Instead they produce what the NRSV translates as “wild grapes.” The Hebrew, however, describes worthless, stinking grapes. This is not merely a stubborn crop; this is not an overgrown rosebush. These vines have distorted their very nature. They have spurned the creative potential placed within them, instead opting for an anti-creation. By doing so, they have lost any possible value. The imagery of smell is an important motif in Israel’s worship. The pleasing odors of burnt sacrifices are described as rising to the nostrils of YHWH. The stench is an inversion of this image.

This is more than disappointment born of unfair expectations. This is the heartbreak born out of watching the ones you love refuse their own potential. It is the agony of love’s hopeful expectancy being trampled. It is a stark contrast to the prophet’s playful words of love-songs for a beloved. This is a song of heartbreak.

Here is a lament of the destructive force of sin. For in verse 7, the Lord reveals the turn of the parable. It is the very people called upon to render a judgement in verses 3-4. This worthless yield of grapes is the people of Israel and the city of Judah. It is as if Isaiah suddenly whips around and points at the crowds, declaring, “You have become useless by your lack of faithfulness. The stench of your sin rises before the Lord.”

Perhaps what is even more striking from this passage is the list of sins. In line with the other voices of the prophetic literature of Israel, Isaiah’s indictment cries out against injustice and violence. The subsequent verses expound on this, detailing Israel’s failure to maintain Levitical laws of land ownership, their drunkenness, and their delight at iniquity. God’s crushed expectations for the people are justice and righteousness. These are the fruit that they were created to bear.