I’ll sing a ballad to the one I love,
a love ballad about his vineyard:
The one I love had a vineyard,
a fine, well-placed vineyard.
He hoed the soil and pulled the weeds,
and planted the very best vines.
He built a lookout, built a winepress,
a vineyard to be proud of.
He looked for a vintage yield of grapes,
but for all his pains he got junk grapes.
“Now listen to what I’m telling you,
you who live in Jerusalem and Judah.
What do you think is going on
between me and my vineyard?
Can you think of anything I could have done
to my vineyard that I didn’t do?
When I expected good grapes,
why did I get bitter grapes?” (Isaiah 5:1-5)
Unrequited love is unfulfilling. It is more painful than simply being lonely. But unrequited love is the love that God has more familiarity with than any other kind. God pictured Israel as a carefully tended and protected vineyard. But despite all the efforts of the farmer, the vineyard was completely unproductive, giving grapes that were good for nothing.
And it wasn’t the farmer’s fault that the vineyard was so bad. There was nothing more that the famer could have done. He did everything right; everything perfectly. There was nothing he could have done better.
The point of the parable was simple: Israel was without excuse. God was not demanding from them that they love him in the face of unrelenting misery. He did not ask them to return good for the evil being heaped upon them. He made it easy: he gave them everything, made them prosper, gave them anything they needed or asked for. And what did God get back?
Most people respond to good gifts with at least a thank you. They feel obligated to the person who has treated them well. But not God’s people. The nicer he was to them, the worse they treated him. Like a bad vineyard, they gave him stuff that wouldn’t even make good vinegar.
Despite the misery and evil they gave God, he always and forever did—and continued to do—what was good for them. God’s love is not dependent upon the actions of those he loves. God’s love comes from who he is.