Bearing good fruit

At the beginning of Matthew 21, Jesus and his disciples arrived in Jerusalem making their triumphant entry – in the event that we commemorate each year on Palm Sunday. He makes his way to the temple and when he sees that this House of Prayer for all the nations has become a marketplace, he sets about overturning the tables of the money changers and cleansing it of anything that should not be in this sacred place. The Jewish leaders ask him a question when he arrives back in Jerusalem the next day: by what authority do you do these things?

Jesus tells three parables to the leaders (not the disciples or the crowds) that begins to address this question: the parable of the two sons (last Sunday), the vineyard (today) and the wedding banquet (next Sunday). Jesus today tells a story that was already richly embedded within the minds and hearts of the Jewish leaders, inspired by the Love Poem of the Vineyard that we hear as our first reading, from Isaiah 5. A similar theme is found in Psalm 80: Israel as the vineyard and the people of God as the fruit of the vine. By understanding the passage from Isaiah, we have a better idea of how to understand what the desire of Jesus is for his new people.

The Jewish Hebrew scholar Robert Alter has been working on a new translation of the Hebrew Bible for more than a decade and finally published the completed 3,870-page collection in late 2018. Alter’s translation and commentary attempts to recapture the narrative and linguistic beauty of the original Hebrew text. This is part of his translation of Isaiah 5:

Let me sing to My beloved
the song of my lover for his vineyard.
A vineyard my beloved had
on a hillside rich in soil.

And he hoed it and took off its stones,
and planted it with choice vines.
And he built a tower in its midst,
and a winepress, too, he hewed in it.
And he hoped to get grapes
but it put forth rotten fruit.

Isaiah 5:1-2

The final line of the translation offers us the interpretive clue for the Gospel today:

For the house of Israel is the vineyard of the LORD of Armies
and the men of Judah are His delightful planting.
He hoped for justice (mishpat), and, look, jaundice, (mishpach)
for righteousness (tzedekah), and, look, wretchedness. (tze’akah)

Isaiah 5:7

God delights in his people. He longs that we will use the good things that he has given us to produce abundant fruit. But instead of lives of justice and righteousness, we so often miss the fullness and abundance and end up with jaundice and wretchedness instead. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Play MP3

Sunday 27, Year A. Isaiah 5:1-7; Psalm 80; Matthew 21:33-46

Scroll to Top