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Idolatry or faithfulness! Isaiah 1.21-31 Luke 20.9-19 

How the faithful city has become a whore! Isaiah 1.2Something has gone desperately wrong. We live in a society of unprecedented wealth yet we experience unprecedented scarcity on many levels. Double incomes somehow are not enough to keep ahead. Poverty is rising sharply in the heart of wealthy countries. We spend more on health care than any other society in history, yet disease is on the increase in the Western world. And it is becoming more and more apparent that we are engaging in a “deficit financing” with the earth that effectively robs the next generations of the creation as they should inherit it. We already feel robbed by an industrial society that has made the air unfit to breathe and the sun a major health hazard. Yes, something has gone terribly wrong. Tenants refuse the owner of the vineyard his portion of the fruit, rejecting his servants and murdering his son. And the city of righteousness, the faithful city is now a whore! 

Whenever the language of harlotry, of prostitution, is used in the scriptures, the issue is always one of idolatry. Idols are like pimps, luring the people of God away from covenantal fidelity into an illicit encounter. And such encounters always bear fruit. Bad fruit! The idolatrous harlotry of
Jerusalem results in economic collapse (“your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water”), in political corruption (“your princes are rebels and companions of thieves”), and in social injustice (“they do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them”). In the same way, spiritual discernment of our present cultural malaise should seek to uncover the false gods who have failed us.
 At heart, idolatry amounts to an absurd declaration of independence. In idolatry we declare our independence because we declare that we can run the affairs of our lives, including the affairs of state, economy, and society, independently of fidelity to our covenant God. Like the tenants in Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, we seek to control the creation that is entrusted to us as if we had total proprietary rights. This declaration is absurd, however, because idolatry never really results in independence but in slavery. Idols require sacrifices and they are never satisfied. Such a path, says Jesus, always results in bloodshed and injustice. 

But is this the way that things have to be? Are we cruelly fated to put our trust in false gods who cannot deliver on their promises? Is it inevitable that the tenants of the vineyard will abandon their stewardship and reject the owner and his representatives? Can our only response to the advent of God’s son be murder? No, says Isaiah. Restoration is still possible.
Jerusalem can again be called a city of righteousness, the faithful city. But such a city can only be inhabited by those who are in fact ashamed of their idolatry, who blushes in the awareness that such idolatry bears the fruit of injustice and oppression. Only those who can blush in this way are ready to receive the coming Son and give an account of their stewardship.
 From “The Advent of Justice” by Walsh, Middleton, Vennen, Keesmaat, 1993. (p11)

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