A Song of the Vineyard (A Reflection on Isaiah 5.1-7)

I’ve been asked to preach at my local parish tomorrow and so I’ve been spending a lot of time the past couple weeks in the readings for this Sunday. The text from the Hebrew Scriptures caught my eye but I unfortunately wasn’t able to fit it in to my sermon. So I thought I’d take a few minutes to write about it here.

It’s an oracle from the prophet Isaiah, a beautiful song telling the story of a vigneron (this is apparently the actual English word for a farmer who grows grapes for winemaking — who knew!?). The vigneron takes great care to plant and tend to his vineyard: He worked the soil and cleared it of stones, and planted the best vines he could find. He built a watchtower and a hedge to protect his vines, and dug out a vat in preparation for the harvest. As the vines grew, he lovingly pruned them to ensure the best harvest possible. 

And yet, when the harvest came, the vines didn’t produce the good fruit the vigneron expected. Exasperated, he asks,

“Judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard
    that I have not done in it?”

Regular readers are probably thinking ‘Oh there goes Matt again going on about bearing good fruit.” And sure, most definitely, that is the point of the reading. We are called to bear good fruit in our lives, full stop.

But that’s not where my mind went to as I was pondering this reading. My mind went to a term I had never heard before April, but that has been following me since: terroir. Terroir refers to the context in which a crop is grown: the environmental factors, soil quality, and farming practices that impart a distinct character to the crop produced. 

This oracle from Isaiah made me ponder the terroir of my own life. I moved around a lot as I was growing up, so I was transplanted into many different local soils. I was fertilized by being raised in the Anglican church, being renewed in faith in the evangelical tradition, and being remade by the wisdom of the Christian East. The soil of my experience was neither rich nor poor. The weather generally temperate, though with some cold winters. And the vigneron has not been light with the pruning shears, cutting me back and shaping me with abandon, trusting that I was resilient enough to take it. All of these things impact the particular flavour of the fruit my life bears just as much as the varietal of the seeds from which I grew. 

The same of course is true of everyone. We all were born into different environments, some into poverty and others into wealth. Some grew up in relative privilege, others in relative marginalization or oppression. Some were fed with the riches of their faith tradition, others were left to explore on their own. While we’re all called to bear the best fruit we can, the characteristics of that good fruit will depend in large part on the environment in which we have grown, that is, to the terroir of our lives. 

Flipped on its head, the question I feel called to meditate on, and question I want to leave with you today, is this: What characteristics has the terroir of your life imparted into the good fruit God is calling you to bear?  Perhaps your experiences have given you a particular interest in walking alongside others in pastoral care. Perhaps they have given you a passion for ensuring families have food on their tables. Or perhaps you are uniquely positioned to serve the needs of a specific community or subculture. 

What has your life uniquely allowed you to see? What might it uniquely have hidden from your attention? 


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