Among the most powerful forces we experience in life are expectations. Some expectations come from other people. Parents, spouses, peers, bosses, friends, children, neighbors, customers, and plenty of others all have their expectations of us. They expect certain things regarding our speech, our behavior, our character. Often, the most influential expectations are the ones that go unstated. And the source of some expectations may be hard to define. We allow our lives to be determined by a powerful yet indefinite group we call "they." "They" expect this or that of me, and I feel compelled to satisfy them.
Other expectations come more clearly from within us. We accept certain norms, and expect to follow them. We prize certain goals, and expect to realize them. These internal expectations make their presence known. When they conflict with each other, then we feel the pain of division and confusion until we choose between them.
Some expectations are unjust, whether they come from inside or outside. They demand that we do what we cannot or should not do. What they ask exceeds our ability or does violence to our identity. There are other expectations that are just. They call on us to do what we can or what we need to do. They show us our responsibility to others. They contribute to the establishment of our true identity.
What are God's expectations of us? What does the one who made us look for from us? There are many ways to approach this question from a Christian perspective. Today's readings point to one such way. God expects from us a harvest, a good and bountiful harvest.
Our reading from Isaiah indicates this. It describes the vineyard owner's displeasure with grapes that are sour. Our reading from Matthew takes a different perspective. There the tenant farmers refuse to pay the owner his just share. In each case the owner of the vineyard has invested great labor in his vineyard. He has provided it with everything necessary for a fruitful harvest, yet he ends up empty-handed. His expectations are disappointed.
God expects from us a harvest. He does not expect us to earn our salvation, to close up the gap between God and us. That has already happened. Christ has won salvation for us. He has closed the gap between us and God. What God expects from us is that Christ's victory will become fruitful in our lives. God does not want the tremendous seed planted in us to fail to bear fruit. God looks for the harvest, both in our hidden depths and in the wide world around us.
Some expectations we experience are just, others are unjust. God does not place on us an expectation we cannot fulfill. God does not simply demand fruitfulness from us, but provides all the conditions by which this can happen. God cares deeply for his vineyard. It is on this basis that he looks for the harvest. This expectation is not a demand; it is a longing.
God's expectation is placed not so much on individuals as on the church. Again, he provides every condition necessary for a good harvest. There are four such conditions. Let's consider how each one applies to us.
First, we have been given Christ. Without him, no harvest is possible. Without him our only yield would be sour grapes. With him, whatever harvest God wants from us is possible. With him, the harvest will be abundant. Christ has been given to us.
Second, we have been given one another. We are a diverse gathering of people. The only one who can unite us is Christ, and if Christ unites us, then not even death can destroy our union. We are people with widely differing experiences and abilities and insights. All are necessary and all are important. We have been given one another.
Third, we have been given certain earthly goods. Some money, some land, a building, and other possessions. By one set of standards we are rich, by another we are not. These standards only confuse us. What matters is that we have what we need to do what God calls us to do. We have been given certain goods to use.
Last of all, we have been given a certain setting. We are in this place -- not in Cleveland, or Copenhagen, or Cairo. Our roots run deep into local soil. All who live within a few miles of this place belong to our context. This larger community hungers for our fruitfulness. We have been put in this particular place.
Christ and one another, some earthly goods, and a specific setting -- these are the conditions for our fruitfulness. God has provided them so that we may produce a harvest. Yet God does not place into our hands a blueprint by which we can construct success, or recognize it when it is complete. God gives us the conditions for fruitfulness, but does not provide the specifications. Today's parishes do not deal with the precision of a machine shop, but the uncertainties of a vineyard.
This means that our fruitfulness may take a form very different from what we expect. Our harvest may surprise us. The strangest grapes can conceal the sweetest taste.
Indeed, it may be that our expected treasures will turn to dust, like a corpse in a gilded casket. But meanwhile, what seemed only dust, the common clay beneath our feet, may sparkle with glory. It has happened to others, and it may well happen to us.