Gardens are a necessity. Vineyards are a sign of abundance beyond the necessary. As terrible a gardener as I am, I can get a crop of vegetables in several weeks’ time. Not so with a vineyard. Vineyards take a long time and hard work to develop. Try googling “starting a vineyard;” the results might surprise you. After you buy the land (and not just any location will do), it costs $20,000 a year per acre to cultivate a vineyard, and there is no cash flow for 3 to 5 years while you wait for the grapes to be good enough for the harvest. There is a lot of patient, intensive work and commitment. Vegetable gardens are near-term cash crop; you can change it up every year. Vineyards are a long-term investment with one fruit produced for one’s lifetime.
That why the idea of vineyards is often used to speak about Covenant – that sacred oath in which God declares that He is our God and we are His people. After God has covenanted his people (and not just any people will do), it takes time and effort to reach the harvest – time that God will invest and care for his people – if they will only keep their hearts and minds turned toward God. God is continually invested “$20,000 per acre” in each one of us measured by grace, gifts, talents, and time. That “investment” is the sure sign of divine Hope.
And so, vineyards are a hopeful metaphor. The appear quite early in Scripture. When Noah gets to dry land he does plant a vegetable garden. After such a long period of time afloat, fresh food is not just a desire, it is a necessity. But the first thing Noah does after God makes a covenant with him? Noah plants a vineyard. In a poetic sense, it is Noah’s acknowledgment of the divine Hope and his commitment to covenant. And Hope has to be cared for.
Hope unattended is the vineyard overgrown. Heavy wood and extra shoots that takes vital nutrients and water away from the vines that should bear the fruit. Unattended, such a vineyard will produce fruit, but of wild and sour grapes.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you. (John 15:1-4)
Therein lies our Hope.