Construction! It is at every turn in this city of Edmonton these days. We can expect it to continue, given the 30,000 - 40,000 people that come streaming into this city every year. As we struggle to accommodate this exponential growth, the city is crafting plan after plan, dealing with land use, transportation etc. With this as a backdrop, the Scripture readings for Sunday pose some dramatic questions. As we fashion our plans for living together, what about God's plan for human relating? As we envision what our city might look like in the years ahead, what about God's vision for humanity? How might this divine vision guide our life together, not only here but also everywhere?
God's intention for the people he has created is given at many points in Scripture through the image of a vineyard. "The vineyard of The Lord is the house of Israel." (Psalm refrain) The image refers to the people God has created and makes clear God's expectations of us. God "plants" this vineyard deeply in the truth of his love; he provides the "nutrients" of grace and mercy; he builds a "protective wall" by speaking his Word, above all his Word incarnate, Jesus Christ, who by his dying and rising has destroyed the power of evil: and God expects from his vineyard a "harvest" of human solidarity, justice and peace.
The same imagery also conveys God's lament that his vineyard has not produced the expected harvest: instead of justice God sees bloodshed; in place of righteousness, he hears cries of distress. (cf. Isaiah 5: 1-7)
To receive this imagery and teaching at a time of rapid societal growth is to hear in it a summons to direct our gaze correctly. In the city at this time we seem rather preoccupied with the number of skyscrapers to be built and their height. Our gaze is directed skyward. God's vision for humanity calls us to direct our gaze not skyward but streetward, and not only in the city but also provincially, nationally and globally. Look around, open your eyes and see. There are many good things to discover, of course. At the same time we also see poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, family abandonment, domestic violence, missing and murdered women and children, and, on the world scene, the horrors of ISIL. The ancient lament spoken through Isaiah would be apposite in our own day.
How did we get here? Consider the teaching given by Jesus. (cf. Matthew 21: 33-43) He takes the same image of the vineyard and around it crafts the parable of the evil tenants, who, at harvest time, do not return the fruit of the vine to the landowner but keep it to themselves. Whenever we turn our backs on God's purpose; whenever we distort his vision to serve our own ends; whenever we take the gifts he has lavishly poured upon us to bear fruit in justice and use them for our own selfish ends, then we can expect a harvest of pain, injustice and suffering, which is the exact opposite of God's expectation.
Concrete, asphalt and steel hold our buildings and roads together. The only cement that can keep together the human family and assure its strength is the rediscovery and implementation of God's vision for his people. May we all, individually and above all in our families, truly live as the Lord's vineyard, peacefully and trustingly receiving from him all the gifts we need and using them for the accomplishment not of our own selfish motives but of God's saving purpose.