Lesson: Isaiah 5:1-7
1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!
The Book of Isaiah is a composite of writings from three distinct periods in Ancient Israel’s history. The writings were made from about 700 BCE to about 300 BCE, and then assembled into a single book.
Chapters 1-39 are called “First Isaiah” and are the words of a prophet (one who speaks for YHWH – translated as “LORD” in all capital letters in the NRSV) who called for Israel and Judea to repent in the years before Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE and Jerusalem came under siege by the Assyrians in 701 BCE. “Second Isaiah” is Chapters 40 to 55. In these chapters, a prophet brought hope to the Judeans during the Exile in Babylon (587 to 539 BCE) by telling them they had suffered enough and would return to Jerusalem. “Third Isaiah” is Chapters 56 to 66 in which a prophet gave encouragement to the Judeans who had returned to Jerusalem (which was largely destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE) after the Exile had ended.
Today’s verses from First Isaiah (c. 730 BCE) used a vineyard as a metaphor for Israel (the northern 10 tribes) and Judea. It began as a love song but turned into an indictment of Israel and Judea. In speaking for YHWH, the prophet spoke in the third person (vv. 1-2) and expressed how his beloved (YHWH) loved the vineyard and cared for it.
In verses 3 to 6, YHWH was the speaker and expressed disappointed that the carefully cultivated vineyard yielded only “wild grapes” (v.4) unsuitable for wine. In verses 5 and 6, YHWH said the vineyard would become “a waste.” (The Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 BCE, and the Babylonians conquered Judea in 597 and destroyed the Temple in 586 BCE.)
In Verse 7, the voice is again that of the prophet. This verse contains two word plays in Hebrew: YHWH expected justice (mishpat) but saw bloodshed (mishpah) and expected righteousness (tsedaqah) but heard a cry (tse’aqah).
Epistle: Philippians 3:4b-14
4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul). Most of its inhabitants were Roman citizens. Paul had deep affection for the Jesus Followers in Philippi and thanked them for gifts sent to him in prison (4:18). Paul wrote this letter from prison, but it is not clear if he was in Rome, Caesarea, or Ephesus.
Today’s reading follows verses (2-4a) in which Paul opposed “Judaisers” – Jesus Followers who claimed that a person needed to be circumcised to be a Jesus Follower. (This was a major issue in the early Jesus Follower Movement.)
In later epistles, Paul used “flesh” to mean human weakness. Here, however, he used it to mean an emphasis on physical rituals (v. 4b). Paul spoke of his own Jewish credentials (v.5-6) but rejected them as “rubbish” (his actual word in Greek is “dog poop”) because he is now in “righteousness” (a right relationship) with God through his faith in the resurrection of Jesus the Christ (v.9-10).
These verses also reflect Paul’s view that “righteousness” did not come through his own efforts by obeying the law (v.9) but from God through faith. “Faith” for Paul was not a matter of intellectual assent to a series of propositions (as it has become for post-Enlightenment persons). The Greek word pistis that Paul used (usually translated as “faith”) has an active component and is better understood as “faithfulness” – the active living into a life of love.
Gospel: Matthew 11:25–30
Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”