She is a stranger to me, not a member of our congregation. Early 50’s; divorced; a mother. She is a devout Christian, has been involved in youth ministry for many years, was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, had a mastectomy. This is someone who experienced the sweet and the sour of life! She talks with sincere appreciation of the love and support she received from her congregation during those years. Why then is she not involved in a congregation anymore, I wonder? Before long she comes to the core of her visit: after a marriage of more than 20 years, she just could not “live the lie any longer”, she explains. She had to come clean: she is a lesbian! After numerous suicide attempts in the past decade, she could not continue like this!
No, her sexual orientation is not the theological essence of the Isaiah passage in front of us. But I think one sentence she used is related: “My psychologist told me to stay away from the church for now; she says I’m not strong enough to return to church life”.
Is it just an ignorant psychologist’s viewpoint? Maybe not. In Philip Yancey’s “What’s so amazing about grace” we read the shocking words that people think “of the church in terms of morality and not in terms of grace” (p 14).
How is this relevant to Isaiah 5:1-7? We are all familiar with this allegory: God painstakingly prepares the perfect conditions for a fruitful vineyard (Israel). “What more could the owner have done to secure a sweet harvest?” “Nothing”, is the answer to the rhetorical question. The one obvious thing is that all these preparations still do not guarantee good results. God does not interfere with “free will”.
What is the outcome of allowing the “free will” to choose? Verse 7 is clear – a fine play of Hebrew words we miss in our translations: instead of the mishpat (justice) God expected, God harvests mispach (bloodshed). Instead of the expected tsedaqah (righteousness), the tse’aqah (cries) fill God’s ears.
God invests all God’s energy in God’s people, but the outcome is often (…yes, of course there are others!) stories of marginalized people who experience the exact opposite of who we, as faith community, are suppose to be.
I know this is a one sided viewpoint, but maybe we should think about it. Maybe next year, when I – once again – ask an HIV+ Christian “to tell his story” at an Aids Service, he will. Maybe then he will not be afraid of being ostracized…
To think about or discuss: Where do you see the harvest “justice” and “righteousness” today? Where do you see the harvest of “bloodshed” and “cries”? What is the outcome when these opposites cross