Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
The Scottish poet, Robert Burns, captured a universal truth in his popular poem “To a Mouse...,” “The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry.” The same idea is often expressed as Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong will go wrong. No matter how well-organized we think we are, we find ourselves making mid-event adjustments. The Biblical authors of today’s passages from Isaiah and Hebrews recognized that the same rules apply when it comes to our religion and its execution.
The prophet in Isaiah 5 uses a parable recounting the woes of an exemplar vintner. The vintner used state-of-the-art practices in his vineyard yet the harvest was virtually unusable. Perfect execution does not always yield perfect results because some unrecognized element is missing. As a prophet, rather than leaving the meaning to interpretation, he reveals that the vineyard and vines represent Israel and Judah, and the missing element was faithful obedience to God’s plan. The societal outcomes failed to reflect the care God provided for his people across history. As the prophets frequently lamented across Israel’s history, the leaders and the people had religious practice and obedience to the letter of the law down to a science while forgetting genuine religious practice originates in the hearts of the people and forgetting the intent of the law. They went through the motions but missed the connection to God.
The author of Hebrews, following a series of verses that extols the virtues of faith, adds depth to the concept by expanding the understanding of the reward that comes from faith. Faith saved some in life (physical, earthly life). Faith martyred others in life (physical, earthly life). Faith left some disappointed with life (physical, earthly life). Faith rewards all who have it with eternity.
Most definitions of faith refer to words like “confidence,” “belief,” “religion.” If we only look at Hebrews 11:1 these would be good definitions. When I look at the entirety of the Hebrews passage on faith and other passages like the one in Isaiah, I define faith as our connection to God. No one mentioned in the passages was remembered for their belief; they are remembered because of their connection (or not) to God and the ways that translated (or not) into actions that reflect the Godly nature of the connection.
The rules of “faith” often get reduced to the doctrine and dogma of a religious group. As such, those perfect plans do not lead to much. Recognizing that faith, as our connection to God, transforms our relationship with God into actions that reflect the relationship. The best laid plans of all creation oft go awry, but the plans of the Creator as completed by his people reflect his nearness and care for all of creation.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts. www.commontexts.org