The New Vineyard: A Reflection on the Lectionary Readings for 6 May 2012

Revised Common Lectionary Page for 6 May 2012 (Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B)

Acts 8:26-40  • Psalm 22:25-31  • 1 John 4:7-21  • John 15:1-8

First things first: I apologize for missing several Bible posts in a row.  A streak of busy weekends and bad luck has knocked that part of my week out of whack in the month of April, and all I can say going forward is that I hope I can do better.

Alright.  On with the lectionary reflection.

Folks make much of Jesus’s “I am” statements in John, and rightly so: of the four gospels, John has Jesus talking about himself far more than the other three, and the Greek ego eimi is indeed a customary translation of the “I am” that YHWH speaks in Exodus 3.  What folks sometimes underplay, I think, is the rest of the Old Testament echoes in these famous sayings.  “I am the good shepherd” means a good deal on its own and becomes even more significant in conversation with Psalm 23.  “I am the resurrection” is certainly a doctrinal cornerstone, and it’s also the fulfillment of the grand apocalyptic vision of Daniel 12.  And this week’s reading, “I am the vine,” is a fine viticultural metaphor on its own, but when it comes into relationship with Isaiah 5, the call to abide in the Son becomes even more striking than before.

What Isaiah most readily lends to John is the metaphoric of the fruit.  After all, unlike Paul’s letter to the Galatians, John does not say with any clarity what sorts of fruit a branch attached to his vine might bear.  Isaiah 5:1-7 tells the tale nicely:

    [7] For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
but behold, an outcry!
(Isaiah 5:7 ESV)

Here the most strident calls of the liberal Protestant (or progressive, if one prefers to call it that) and the most insistent doctrine of the conservative Evangelical come together in one grand prophetic oracle.  (Of course, the Catholics and Orthodox have done a fair job of keeping both in sight these twenty centuries.)  What the LORD requires of mortals and our cities are righteousness and justice, domestic and political shalom.  And the way that Jesus calls us to such things is none other than to abide in the Son.

What’s more, Jesus’s words in this part of his Sermon at the Table (I think I just coined that, and I like it) bring together the faithfulness of the most pious “prayer warrior” with the word-piety of the most fervent Lutheran: whatever we ask of the LORD, we shall receive, so long as we ask while abiding in the word.  In other words, so long as our own desires stand disciplined by the proclamation of the Son, shaping the desires of our hearts to conform to the desires of the Son, in other words if we learn to ask for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven, we will genuinely see our truest desires playing out in the world.

Now please don’t misunderstand: I would be the last to assert the stupid optimism that frames genuine doctrinal disputes in terms of “misplaced emphasis” or reduces deep-seated historical schism to “religion, not relationship.”  But in the Sermon at the Table, and in the prophetic oracles that it echoes, at the very least we Christians can affirm that the best parts of all of our theologies find their roots in the same Scriptures, which in turn find their authority in the call of God.  That does not finish discussions of historical difference and theological error, but I would hope it could be a starting point.

May our God-talk always strive for true utterance, for the enlivening of the imagination, for charity above all things.

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