A brief reflection for the start of Holy Week: reading the Isaiah lesson brought to mind a maxim “that from those to whom much has been given, much is expected”, it is of course also from the Bible (Luke 12:48) In a very clear and direct way that maxim seems to apply quite literally here.
We discover that the one who has made the vineyard is not a disinterested observer but expects fruit. We expand that thought a little further; could it be that the one who is the creator of all that is, is not disinterested, but similarly has expectations; maybe expects fruitful lives and good living? Imagine: something is expected for all the work that has been done; a return for all that has been invested; and something for all the energy that has been expended.
One might conceptualise this in terms of a dark domestic comedy or, more likely, a tragedy. Imagine the indignant teenager who is reminded of the expectations of the parents who have lavished such focused care and attention upon their child. ‘What do you means expectations?’ How dare you? I did not ask to be born! I am my own person, I have my own life.
It is as if the idea of expectations, of consequences, has dropped out of our cultural conversation and the mere thought of expectations and consequences may feel alien and an imposition. We may not care to admit that. Because, after all, it is only a short step of the imagination to replay the whole scenario in terms of the primordial myth: the story of the first garden and the first humans who fail what has been expected of them and they bear the consequences – they are expelled; they and all the rest of humankind bear the burden.
The Isaiah writer is a clever poet; he plays on Hebrew words for the botched expectations: God expected justice (mispah), but saw bloodshed (mispat); God expected righteousness (sedaqa) but heard a cry (se a qa). He hammers out a sustained lament at social injustice and the plight of those who are vulnerable and exploited by cruel economic policies. It sounds terribly familiar, frighteningly contemporary, given the vast and ever-widening gap between the super-rich and the working-poor today.
The second lesson gospel passage from Mark shows Jesus reworking the Isaiah image of the vineyard. It is a grim warning and it speaks of the Passion and all we consider this Holy Week; God is not finished with us, but in Christ immerses himself in our world and our condition. The cross is not far from this parable.
What is the expectation that this sort of engagement and commitment carries? Do we fend off that thought from having any relevance to us? Are we like the teenager – bloated with a vague sense of entitlement; indifferent to expectations; mindless as to consequences? Are we just accidents in a vast process of evolution? Or, are we charged with moral significance and purpose in a cosmic process beyond our comprehension though dimly glimpsed in our readings this evening. Who are we becoming?