Isaiah 61:1-7

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; but you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. Because their shame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs. Isaiah 61:1-7

Today we hear the voice of Second Isaiah, post-exile Isaiah. Today we hear the promises of better days after having come through the worst of all days.

Unless you have suffered horribly, and I mean horribly, these words will mean little to you.

I grew up poor but we were never dirt poor. We were never homeless. We almost always had something to eat. We had something to wear. I have no experience of life with nothing. No home. No family. No food. But plenty of people do.

We watch the horrors of the conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. Unless we have been there, hearing the bombs, hearing the frantic voices outside our windows, wondering if we are next, we can never fully appreciate or understand the devastation of war. But far too many people do.

From a distance I have watched the news about the pipeline protest in North Dakota. The voices of the powerless rising up, remembering the devastation of the past, and living in the deprivation of the present. To some it is just a pipeline. But to others it is about so much more than that. It is about shame and pride, about ancestors and memories, about the sacredness of the earth and visions of a preferred future. These are the people who can hear well the promises of a prophet.

We don’t read the prophets enough. We forget that their writings make up about a third of the Old Testament. We forget that the earliest church, seeking to understand Jesus and his ministry, didn’t look to the Pentateuch, but to the prophets. They found Jesus in the voice of the prophets. When they did, they saw him everywhere.

They saw his concern for the broken, the blind, the deaf, the lame. His hospitality to women, to outcasts, to the socially despised. They saw his condemnation of a temple that had long ceased to be a house of prayer and religious leaders (like me) who spend way too much time and attention acting like a temple priest than seeking out the suffering and dispossessed.

The earliest Christians understood persecution. They understood hunger, and homelessness, and war. They lived it. And because they lived it, they heard the words of the prophets and they were grasped by the ministry of Jesus. Perhaps, if we listen well, we too will be so grasped.

Let us pray: The suffering of the wider world seems so far from us, yet Lord we know that we are bound to those who suffer. That is what love does. That is what the Holy Spirit does. You connect us and draw us toward opportunities to repair, to rebuild, to restore, and to heal. Do this, we pray, in and through us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

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One Response to “Isaiah 61:1-7”

  1. Dave Aemstrong Says:

    Excellent question!

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