Good, Not Grape.
Since moving to the strange land of Michigan, my wife Stephanie and I have discovered the wonderful pastime of fruit picking. If you’ve never gone to what’s called a “U-pick,” let me lay down some context for you.
It’s basically what it sounds like. Families or companies plant a vineyard, some fruit trees, and they invite the public to come and pick the fruit themselves.
It’s cheaper and more fun for the people picking, and it’s free labor for the planters. Win-win.
One day Steph and I went to our local U-pick, and the worker told us that they had concord grapes available for picking. Not expecting too much, we went and picked some concord grapes. As we were picking, I decided to taste one.
Friends. I’ve absolutely had grapes before in my life — but nothing like this. All of those crazy delicious grape flavored drinks and candies are based on a real flavor. It was as if my tastebuds went to Heaven for a fraction of a second.
These delights are what I imagine God was looking for when He planted His vineyard. Let’s jump into the story in Isaiah chapter 5.
1 Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines (or Vine of Sorekh — literally, the vine of choicest grapes); he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
After all of the preparation that the gardener undertook, how disappointing it must have been to grow some measly wild grapes! Check it out, here’s a visual comparison between the two.
To alleviate any confusion, the dense and delicious concord grapes are on the top, and the small and sour wild grapes are on the bottom.
Look, I’m not set out to destroy wild grapes. They are a wonderful addition to nature, but not when delicious concord grapes were planted. If you were a U-pick owner and wild grapes grew where you planted your vaunted concord grapes, wouldn’t you be upset?
I think more often than not, we act a lot more like the wild grapes than the heavenly concord grapes. Notice that all of the nutrients that the gardener supplied were absorbed. The walls and tower were taken advantage of, since no travelers or wild animals ate the fruit. Perhaps something more is at play here. What if the vineyard was planted not for the purpose of growing fruits, but for the purpose of displaying the gardener’s character?
Hmm. If that’s the case, then wild grapes are a pretty good, but not great representation of God’s character. But really, when truly applied, how useful is pretty good? Let’s say you’re looking for a job. You add a friend on your resume as a character reference. Your potential employer calls him up and your buddy says, “Oh, yeah! He’s pretty good.” Pretty good? He might as well just say average. Average. Is this what the vineyard is saying about the gardener’s character? My boy C. S. Lewis states it this way:
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
God wants so much more for us than pretty good. God wants us to be more than pretty good.
But what if I’m producing wild grapes where God intended concord grapes?
Fortunately, our gardener himself is the antidote. We have hope. Rather than giving up on his failed vineyard, the gardener did something crazy. This beloved Gardener saw that His vineyard wasn’t producing correctly, so He chose to plant Himself. He became the vine, the source of strength for us. He promises that if we are attached to Him, then it is impossible to bear only pretty good fruit.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:1–2, 5)