The answer.

February 10, 2011

Dear reader, a short but efficient post today, 2 for the price of 1 no less!

Yesterday I read Job 23-24. Basically, Job has a good old rant at God, whom he feels deserted by and at the world’s injustices. It’s a very good rant, the kind of rant where you find yourself thinking, ‘yeh!’ as you read. Oh yes, I can really get on board with Job’s outrage and indignation. The fact that there are people making clothes for the West who can’t afford clothes for their children, or picking crops who can barely feed their families seems very close to Job’s complaints in 24:10-12.

Funnily enough, I didn’t consider writing a post that just said ‘yeh!’ Maybe I should have. I was tired and not feeling so well so I thought I’d wait until today, read Isaiah 61-66 and try to write about them both. Afterall, last week’s posts on these books fed into each other quite well.

Well, dear reader, I get the feeling that if I wasn’t still feeling slightly off-key (and also cooking a meal for 15 students) tonight, I may very well be able to come up with a creative and insightful posts synthesising these two passages. As it is I’m struggling.

But there is a grain, a little seed of something that I’ll share with you.

The passage in Job questions why there is oppression, why there is hunger and deprivation and why those who oppress and steal seem to be rewarded in their earthly lives. The passage in Isaiah begins with these famous words:

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 broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
   and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour

These words speak of a God who won’t stand for the very injustices that Job rants against. And these are the words that are read by Jesus at the synagogue in Nazareth at the very beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:16-21). When he had read these words he said “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

So, perhaps, there are no answers to Job’s rants, no adequate ones any way. None that tie everything up and sort anything out.

Except Jesus.

Not that Jesus sorted out the world, so that there’s no oppression or hunger, if only that were true. But that he has come to set us free from this world. He has died and rose again so that all, no matter what their earthly state, might live fully and eternally.

This seems so simple that I find myself wanting to qualify it with lots of disclaimers like “this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for a better world” and “I’m not suggesting that we should say to people who are deep in suffering “cheer up, Jesus died for you!””.

But I’ll try to ignore those impulses leave it at this: Jesus came. And just as Job knew, somehow, mysteriously, in the depths of darkness, that his redeemer lived, just as he trusted in a final, unending justice (23:10), so can we in Christ Jesus. In him there is freedom.

Amen.

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Wowza, how frikking amazing is Isaiah? I’m like ‘you go prophet-dude’ you tell them people how it is!’ In fact, you tell us people how it is! Though I have found parts of this book pretty dense and in need of some major contextualising, chapters 56-60 are just so bloomin rousing! Yesterday I wrote about our questions for God, here God throws some pretty tough ones at us!

Now, each raises its own questions. 56 about who we exclude, 57 about how we turn away from God. But for me it all centres around the wonderful Isaiah 58 (59 leads on from it pretty resoundingly). Have you read it? If not, or if you need a refresher then go and read it, definitely read it instead of my ramblings. What are you waiting for? Go! Now!

Great stuff, huh?

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Yes! This is amazing, and it really hits home doesn’t it? It couldn’t be clearer; God is not interested in you piety for its own sake (58:2-5), he asks us ,what are we doing for the hungry, the homeless, the oppressed, the persecuted? And you, know, I’m often at a loss to answer.

I’ve recently been using a book of blessings by John O’Donohue called Benedictus (it’s so wonderful, I highly recommend it). It’s blessings are mostly in the form of poetic prayers, but there is one called ‘At the end of the day: A mirror of questions’. These are questions to help you reflect on the day that God has given, and they really get to the heart of things. One of them reads ‘What did I do today for the poor and excluded?’. It’s a striking question, mostly because it implies that I should be doing something for the poor and excluded every day. Do you do that? I know I don’t, but since it’s has been in my mind it keeps asking and, I pray, it’s spurring me to change. I want to have answer for this question, every day. Not a big answer, not an impressive answer, but answer all the same. Because I really believe that this is a question from God.

It might be to talk to a homeless person rather than avert my eyes or just quickly slip them some change, it might be to give to charity, it might be to write to my MP, it might to volunteer somewhere, it might be to offer my support to someone who is lonely or in need, it might simply to pray. These are all little answers, some bigger than others. And I do believe that prayer is certainly doing something, though we also need to partner with God in answering our prayer; we can’t just pray for a nice world, we have to at least try to make one.

So, what have you done today for the poor and excluded? For the hungry? For the orphan? For the bereaved? For the naked? For the homeless? What have you done to ‘loose the chains of injustice’?

If we all had little answers for this everyday, perhaps it would change the world. 

A nice piece of synchronicity means that in Isaiah 50-55, like yesterday’s reading from Job, we find words used in Handel’s Messiah. Like those words from Job, it is also a passage for which many Christians see the interpretation as ‘obvious’. The song of the suffering servant (chapter 53) is used in Handel’s Messiah and by many Christians over the centuries, to reflect on the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday, and I can see why. The song ends with “yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Sounds a lot like Jesus to me. But when you read this chapter in its context, this interpretation doesn’t seem so obvious.

A traditional Jewish interpretation of this text, and now the view of many Christian scholars, is that it personifies the nation of Israel and its sufferings under occupation and exile. The voices who speak here are the kings of the powerful nations, struck by the resurgence of God’s people. This actually makes a lot of sense to me. Not only is Israel named as the servant in previous chapters (44:1, 44:21, 45:4, 48:20, 49:3), but the kings are mentioned in the preceding verse 52:15;  “kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.” This leads straight in to the first line of 53; “who has believed what we have heard?”

Yes, when I read 53 as a whole, rather than certain verse or half verses, and especially when I read it in its place within Isaiah, I see that it may well be about the suffering nation of Israel in exile. But so what? Does that make it less powerful? Less relevant to Christians? I don’t think so, not at all.

Isaiah 50-55 is striking in that it is awash with contrasts. The suffering servant songs of 50:4-11 and 52:13-53:12 occur between shouts of jubilation and hope. In 52:7 we read the beautiful lines

7 How beautiful upon the mountains
   are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
   who announces salvation,
   who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’

and in 55:1 there is what the NRSV entitles “an invitation to Abundant Life:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price.

There is something vital for us to learn from this song of hope and suffering, or of hope that comes out of suffering. Something about patience, endurance, something about every experience forming who we are.

One reason I’m reluctant to subscribe to the Jesus-as-suffering-servant model is that I’m wary of presenting Jesus’ suffering as a substitute for our own. You know, the whole “Jesus: he suffers so you don’t have to!” slogan; it just doesn’t float my boat. Plus it’s totally not biblical; hello! John the Baptist, Paul, Stephen – there was definitely some suffering involved in following Jesus. He died that we might live, he didn’t suffer that we might live it up.

So there is something we have to face in the fate of the nation of Israel, in their rejection, exile, oppression. We have to face the idea that being called to follow God doesn’t mean an easy life, far from, it means more is demanded of you. It also requires faith when hope seems absurd.

But that’s easy for me to say. I’m not in Congo or Kashmir or Cote d’Ivoire or Queensland right now, for me it is likely that this talk of suffering will only ever be relevant on an existential level. I know nothing of war or coups or natural disaster.

So I think there is another reason we must face this image of the suffering servant. We must face it lest we become like the powerful kings who are startled when they realise that those they had thought of as below them are those who God loves. We must know that’s God’s love is for the oppressed, and we must live our lives in honour of this. If the Bible teaches us one thing it is that the rich need to watch themselves!

So may we know that in every suffering, there will later be song. And knowing this may we be a part of helping others to sing.

Amen.

Some days reading 6 chapters of Isaiah seems like a verbose and unintelligible mountain. Some days it seems like feast of poetry that you can really get stuck into! Today it is, blessedly, the latter. This probably has something to with the fact that I’ve done very little else all day and so don’t feel squeezed for time as I would on a normal Tuesday. Don’t you just love that hibernation-like time between Christmas and New Year? (if you have been working today, apologies for the smugness!).

Chapters 44-49 of Isaiah pick of the major themes of the book; God as judge but also redeemer, and God as the God. There is an eloquent piece of prose poetry in Isaiah 44:9-20 about the fashioning of idols out of material things. It’s quite beautifully written I think, and really gets to the heart of the futility of trying to make Gods out of the material world (which, of course, God has created). Indeed, the futility of idol worship is a recurring theme in these chapters. As is the assertion that there are no gods apart from the Holy One of Israel. 45:48 ends “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” 46:9 repeats this phrase and adds “I am God, there is no one like me.” 48:12b states “I am He; I am the first, and I am the last.” And again and again we are told of God’s power in creation and salvation.

So what’s new? The assertion that there is no god but God is pretty much stating the obvious to monotheistic ears, isn’t it? This is a given for those who follow the Abrahamic faiths and many more besides. But do we really think about what it means?

Most of us have heard sermons about making idols out of material things. Sure, we don’t fashion statues of gold or silver or cedar, but the way we celebrate Christmas more than hints at the importance of stuff in our lives. Perhaps we do lose focus sometimes, most times?

There is something deeply profound and endlessly repeatable about the statement that God is the god. I really think that if any of us knew that, really knew it, it would transform us entirely. We would be able to surrender in ways we only dream of (and are probably quite afraid of) now.

God is God. God is God. Leaving the descriptions aside, it is enough simply to reflect that He is God and there is no other. Nothing that is supreme, nothing that we can trust like that and, perhaps most wonderfully of all, nothing that we should fear. Because God is God, and there is no other.

I encourage you to sit with that idea for a while, perhaps in your quiet time if you have such a thing. Do you know it? Really know it? What difference would it/does it make to know this profound truth? How could it transform you and your life? Please share your discoveries here if you feel you can. And perhaps I’ll add a comment of two to this post when I’ve sat with it too.

What would happen if we all just let God be God in our lives? I don’t know, but I have a feeling it would pretty amazing.

 Well, it would probably easier to concentrate on Isaiah 40-44 if I wasn’t reading it on a train with a nearby neighbour who feels the need to play their ipod so loud that the entire carriage could join in with the chorus if they felt the urge. Funnily enough, none of us do. But needs must. I always find the prophecy day of my Bible plan challenging any way, partly because of the sheer volume I have to read; this is such a rich text, it’s hard to pick a theme to reflect on from one chapter let alone five. But it’s also that I don’t feel equipped to really understand Isaiah; I don’t know much about the context, the meaning traditional of the imagery. But, you know me, I’ll give it a go!

Luckily, this week I feel a little guided. I read the beginning of Isaiah 40 in a carol service yesterday. It contains that famous line “a voice cries out in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord”. Of course, in a Christian context we associate these words with John the Baptist (Luke 3:4, John 1:23). When we read these words we think of the coming of Jesus.

But this making straight is mentioned again and again in Isaiah. There is the passage directly after that above, which begins “every valley shall be lifted up and even mountain and hill shall be made low” (40:4). Then later the voice of God tells Israel “I shall make you a threshing-sledge, sharp, new and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, you shall make the hills like chaff” (41:15). And again “I will turn the dark places before them into light, the rough places into level ground” ( 42:16b).

So it seems the whole make straight thang is a pretty big deal in the imagery of scripture. But what does it mean? Thinking about it at first I thought it seemed a little dull. Everything leveled out, even, no peaks and troughs. Boring! But I doubt the message here is that God wants us to make everything relentlessly average before he comes to us. That doesn’t really sound like God to me.

 A level playing field then? Making all equal? Could this be about justice? Well I’d like it to be, but I thinking this is a bit of a modern analogy I’m making.

Perhaps, then, it’s something internal. I think this was probably what the John the Baptist was getting at, as his message was baptism and repentance. I hope it doesn’t mean making everything in us even; sanding off the rough edges. I like the rough edges, I like our individual peaks and troughs. But making a way for God, a path for to us and through us, well, that sounds like a good plan.

I find myself asking, are there obstacles to God within me? Barriers I’ve put up that seem like mountains? Are there cavernous valleys? And am I dealing with them? I want so much to make straight the way for God in my life. And I want to clear path to Him. I want to live in a way that would break down mountains in order to be closer and closer to God.

 When I was reading this earlier a song started going around in my head. It’s another of my pop-songs-that-would-make-amazing-worship-songs. It’s joyous and determined, just like I hope to be on my path through the wilderness. I feel it could also be God’s song to us, especially in the context of Jesus’ sacrifices; there’s nothing big enough to God from getting to us, babe. Enjoy:

There’s a lot of hope in Isaiah 29-33. Some wonderful lines read:

18 On that day the deaf shall hear
   the words of a scroll,
and out of their gloom and darkness
   the eyes of the blind shall see.
19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
   and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. (29:18-19)

Then again there’s a bit of doom:

12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel:
Because you reject this word,
   and put your trust in oppression and deceit,
   and rely on them;
13 therefore this iniquity shall become for you
   like a break in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse,
   whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant;
14 its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
   that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a sherd is found
   for taking fire from the hearth,
   or dipping water out of the cistern. (30:12-14)

But then just after that there’s more hope:

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
   therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
   blessed are all those who wait for him. (30:18)

And so it goes on… I don’t know about you, but I’m getting mixed messages here. Or am I?

Isaiah makes it clear in these chapters that God wants relationship with His people but he also wants justice and peace in the world. The relationship is almost contingent on the adherence of his people to that vision of justice. In this part of Isaiah there is a lot of criticism for those Israelites who are putting their trust and hope in the Egyptian regime, rather than depending on and serving God (30:1-7; 31:1-9). There are also many passages that describe a day when righteousness will govern and peace will rule:

 16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
   and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
17 The effect of righteousness will be peace,
   and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever. (32:16-17)

So is the destruction threatened in order to make way for this new way of being? That doesn’t seem right to me; destroying to build. We use the phrase “God gives and God takes away a lot” (probably comes from a paraphrase of Job 1:21), but would be really apply it on this scale? A God who destroys nations?

I don’t have an answer for this one. I don’t know if I believe in a God who punishes. I don’t know if I believe in the model of the cross that says that punishment was taken out on Jesus so we don’t get it, either. And that is just one model, if you haven’t heard others then ask around because Christian thought is rich and varied.

I guess I do believe in a God who can’t stand injustice, though, and I do believe in a God that continually offers hope of a final justice. I do believe in a model of the cross that says Jesus made that possible too. He is my righteousness, and all that. But mostly reading Isaiah 29-33 all in one go is a bit too much for my mortal mind to get hold of. So I’ll leave it for you to ponder… How does our God move for justice? If He does move that way at all? What would righteousness look like in this world?

God bless.

Good reader (if I’m a blogger can I call you a blogee? I hope so) I do apologise for yesterday’s lack of post. Various family and churchy things made for a packed day and body things made for much tiredness at the end of it. But this is not the first time I’ve skipped a day so I suspect it won’t be the last. For fear of the apologies become a tiresome feature of this blog I’ve decided that this will be the last one. If there’s another day’s absence then assume that I have a good reason and that I’m heartily sorry. Of course there are so many of you who hand on my every word that I shall try to make these occurrences rare as can be…

So, Isaiah 23-28. Primarily it leaves with a furrowed brow an expression of “whaaa?”. Whoever wrote this Bible reading plan in their wisdom decided that unlike other days when I read two-three chapters, when reading Isaiah I should take on six at a time. A little too much I feel, especially as I struggle to understand one chapter at a time with this one! But I’ll have a go…

Chapter 23 ends a long sections of oracles of destruction of pretty much everyone; Moab, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Ethiopia and Jerusalem too (it’s very equal opps that way), with an Oracle concerning Tyre, which will be made like a “forgotten prostitute”, apparently.

Then we get the big one; the impending judgement of all the earth, which God is “about to lay waste to”, this desolation is very equally distributed too;

2 And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest;
   as with the slave, so with his master;
   as with the maid, so with her mistress;
as with the buyer, so with the seller;
   as with the lender, so with the borrower;
   as with the creditor, so with the debtor.
3 The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled;
   for the Lord has spoken this word. (24:2-3)

Well fair enough, at least it’s all even handed…but hang on…what’s this in chapters 25-27?  Judah’s song of victory? Israel’s redemption? Suddenly the wrath seems to not so evenly distributed…

On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city;
   he sets up victory
   like walls and bulwarks.
2 Open the gates,
   so that the righteous nation that keeps faith
   may enter in. (26:1-2)

12 On that day the Lord will thresh from the channel of the Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt, and you will be gathered one by one, O people of Israel. 13And on that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (27:12)

So is it that God’s destruction was just to bring down the proud, rich nations? Or did he bring everyone low but it was only Judah and Israel that were humbled (26:16), only they that continually trusted in him? I don’t really understand…

But of course I don’t. I’ve never lived under occupation, or in a region where my land and family are constantly threatened by surrounding empires. I’ve never lived in fear of losing my livelihood, or even my life. These aren’t words of some puffed up mega-state, they words offering hope to a people who have a history of conquest or oppression by Egypt, Assyria and later Babylon. What sounds to me like a rant basically telling other states that they all had it coming, is actually an offering of hope for a vulnerable people. Of course I don’t understand!

Some parts of Isaiah are inspiring and uplifting, beautifully evocative and poetic. In fact if you read as poetry it’s all pretty stunning even the “you’re all going to die a horrible death because you’ve been very naughty” parts. But I can’t connect so much with those parts on a non-literary level because they’re not written for me in my warm house with my laptop, tv, wardrobe full of clothes and cupboard full of food. It’s hard for people who’ve lived lives like mine to understand the anger and need for divine justice that is expressed in Isaiah 23-28, though that need is still felt by many throughout the world today. Perhaps, thoough, reading these chapters can help me sympathise and through their poetry give me a taste of the longing for God’s intervention that I will (thankfully) probably never understand.

And it is the duty of us who don’t suffering in these ways to try to understand, because if we don’t how are different to Egypt and Assyria?

It’s no wonder some people stereotype the God of the Old Testament (incidentally, the same God as the new testament) as vengeful. Reading passages like Isaiah 12-17 it can seem a bit like the Almighty would benefit from an anger management course. All that smiting…tut tut tut.

But, and this may become a tiresome refrain, when seen through a social justice lens it’s all a bit more palatable. These prophecies are all describing the fall of oppressive states. They are written for and by a people who live in the middle of these powerful vast empires; Egypt, Assyria, Babylon. So no wonder they venerate a test that tells themthat they will one day sing to the King of Babylon “You too have become weak as we are!” (14:10b). Isaiah speaks of a God who won’t stand for all this occupation and pillage malarkey.

I hear echoes of these kinds of prophecy in the Magnificat (the Song of Mary) in Luke: “He has put down the mighty from their seat and has exalted the humble and meek.” These words give hope to a people under occupation (am I right in thinking that first Isaiah was written at the time of the Babylonian exile? please correct me) .

The problem is that once the meek are exalted they seem to forget their humility pretty darn fast. Exhibit A: the book of Joshua (my fave, as you know). And then God has to sort them out too. Exhibit B: the book of Lamentation (actually a fave…really). In fact, it’s easier for me to stomach these prophecies when I remember how many time the Israelites are brought down in the Hebrew Scriptures; they can get too big for their boots just like the rest of ’em!

So hurrah! God brings down the horrible mean states that oppress.. @But hang on!” I hear you cry “Where’s that God now then? Where’s that God been for the last 500 years of Western empire and pillage?” It’s certainly a question that arose for me as I read this…

On Thursday I had the privilege of hearing the Chief Rabbi of the UK speak. Appropriately, what he said then has helped me grapple with the Jewish scriptures I’m reading today. He talked about what lasts and what doesn’t. Judaism: 5000(ish) years. Christianity 2000 years. Islam 1300 years (is that right? forgive me if it’s not!). Then he listed some dominant world powers; Dutch in the 17th century, French in the 18th century, British (English?) in the 19th century, American in the 20th century. 100 years isn’t long compared with how long the Abrahamic Faiths have lasted, or any major faith for that matter.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that the hand 0f God brought down the British Empire (though if it did good on Him frankly!), and certainly not that God is about to bring down the USA. It’s too late now though, the FBI will following this blog from now on…ah well…a hit’s a hit.

But I do think that there is brilliant and still relevant contrast between inconstancy of political tyrannies, of fame and power, and the constancy God tin Isaiah. And when we see this perhaps we can access some of the hope and comfort, some of the inspiration of those who first read it.

Isaiah 12 talks of God being our Strength whilst the verse referred to above mentions our weakness. This reminds be of the ultimate fragility of all human achievements. It reminds me that behind their big steel gates and combinatin locks the rich and powerful are still human, still subject to pain and loss. It also reminds me that all the apparatus of injustice I see around me will crumble, but faith, hope and love will remain.

Heart breakingly, new injustice will arise in place of old. But there is a hint in Isaiah of a final justice; a mystery in which I put my faith…

When the oppressor is no more,
   and destruction has ceased,
and marauders have vanished from the land,
5 then a throne shall be established in steadfast love
   in the tent of David,
   and on it shall sit in faithfulness
a ruler who seeks justice
   and is swift to do what is right. (16:4-5)

A throne established in steadfast love? Amen to that!

Isaiah 1-6, phew, that’s a lot to take in. Highlights include the old favourites; “they shall beat their swords into to ploughshares” (2:4); “Here am I; send me!” (6:8) and of course the Sunday morning favourite “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” Each of these verses deserves a treatise of its own, each of them have blessed and will bless me and you and us. But to cherry-pick these 21st century friendly (if any Bible verse can be called such) lines would really not reflect the ambience of the chapters as a whole, would it?

Here’s the general drift: God is angry. Majorly angry. Wrathful, if you will. As with huge swathes of the Bible (see recent posts on Job and Joshua) it all seems a bit harsh on first reading. Most striking to me is the vitriol against the “haughty” daughters of Zion; “the Lord will lay bare their secret parts.” Oh matron! Sorry, serious times are going on down in Zion, this is not the time for Carry On references…

The truth is that I find it hard not to make jokes about verses like that. I feel compelled to somehow defuse my middle-class, western, liberal (oooh I hate that word!) discomfort with these verses of desolation. So I’ll write “swords into ploughshares” in nice writing and put it up somewhere and forget the slightly threatening tones of the song of the unfruitful vineyard (5:1-7).

Or at least, that’s how I used to feel. Thankfully, my eyes were opened to the ferocious appetite for social justice that lay within the biting words of Isaiah – especially by great Christian campaigning groups like SPEAK. I used to find “righteous anger” a bit of oxymoron, and I would read passages like Isaiah 1, which describes the desolation and degeneracy of Judah as if it said “God has punished you so now you’re like this” rather than “look what you’ve done! now you’re like this”. But prophecy is truth-telling’. The people of Judah wonder why everything’s gone so wrong and Isaiah’s not afraid to tell it to them straight; you accumulate with no view to the future, you neglect widows and orphans, you live in opulence and take from those who have nothing. So greed begets greed, violence begets violence, oppression begets oppression. From Exodus to the gospels God is the God of the oppressed; when you become the oppressor it’s very hard to stay in tune with Him! So in Isaiah God’s turning that great old break-up line on its head; “it’s not Me, it’s you!”

This is heart-breakingly apparent in the song of the unfruitful vineyard when the gardener asks “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I haven’t done?” The voice of God, like a forlorn parent regarding their misguided progeny. It’s been almost 3000 years but still the alarming revelation that blessing, security and even salvation don’t guarantee a faithful heart, or a people dedicated to compassion. See also the Conservative party front bench (oh no she didn’t!).  

 5:8 incisively illustrates how one can be isolated by ones own greed:

 Ah, you who join house to house,
   who add field to field,
until there is room for no one but you,
   and you are left to live alone
   in the midst of the land!

This could be a message for any Western nation in the days of climate change and decreasing bio-diversity 

So though I’m left rather shell-shocked by it all, I’m glad it’s in there. Sometimes it seems that social justice is on the fringes of the Church. In fact I once heard a ‘celebrity pastor’ (now there’s an oxymoron) from the US say that if your church teaches social justice issues you should leave it. I’m not sure what Bible he was reading! Maybe the Tea Party Translation (oh no she didn’t!)

And it’s also nice to know that along a good, and very necessary, telling off there’s also hope. More on that next Saturday I’m sure (for unto us a child is born!) But for now “swords into ploughshares” ain’t bad…not bad at all…

photo by the talented Sterlic http://www.flickr.com/photos/sterlic/