Monday, March 22nd Isaiah 50:1

Thus says the LORD: Where is your mother’s bill of divorce with which I put her away? Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? No, because of your sins you were sold, and for your transgressions your mother was put away. Isaiah 50:1

Lent is soon drawing to a close. We walk this week toward Palm Sunday and then to our focus on the last week of Jesus’ life. We will be listening to Isaiah 50 as we continue this journey.

Although it might provoke an interesting conversation, most Americans would agree that the darkest days of our country were the years spent killing one another in the Civil War. Are country was divided into two. Between 600,000 and 700,000 people died – more than the total deaths of all the other wars in our history, from the Revolution through Vietnam. 23,000 people died in one day in the Battle of Antietam.

If you asked the same question of the world as a whole, many would argue that the genocidal Holocaust in World War II was the darkest moment. The sheer heartlessness and cold calculation that led to the deaths of 5+ million Jews, homosexuals, communists and other political dissidents, Slavs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, some Protestant pastors and Catholic priests, black people, the mentally and physically disabled, and others is staggering.

People don’t forget darkness like that. They are scars on human history. And they are also the kind of experiences that force people of faith to come to grips with the great questions of how God could let something as terrible as this happen among the people God supposedly loves.

Among God’s people in the Old Testament, there were other equally dark moments, especially the destruction of Jerusalem by the forces of the king of Babylon and the forced eviction of much of the population from Jerusalem to refugee camps in Babylon. A proud people, who considered themselves the “chosen ones” of God, were reduced to squalor for at least a generation.

In this portion of Isaiah, the writer is wrestling with the questions such darkness brings to the surface. Against the human temptation to blame someone or something else – Nebuchadnezzar’s greed, the South’s addiction to slavery, Hitler’s insanity – the opening verse of this 50th chapter does what we normally consider unthinkable…it blames the victim.

This is shocking. Blaming the victim seems heartless. How are we to hear this?

The key is remembering the difference between a survivor and a victim. A victim remains powerless; a survivor is empowered. A victim is trapped in the pain of their victimization; a survivor picks up the pieces, learns something, and moves on with life.

Lent is many things, among them a time for self reflection, a time for asking deep questions about the reality of our lives. It is not the time to play the victim, but to do something more akin to what the recovery movement does in working a 4th step. It is a time to take inventory, to ask ourselves “What is our part in the dark moments of our lives?”

This is hard. Life is hard. But such self reflection makes life easier.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, it is so easy for us, seems so natural for us, to blame the actions of others for the pain in our own lives. And equally easy to take credit for everything good. As we move closer to our observance of Holy Week, help us to do the hard work of self reflection, that our confession run deep, and the healing power of your love run deeper still. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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