Monday, April 15, 2019

Interesting Strategy


April 15, 2019 - Monday in Holy Week


In the spring or fall, we like to leave our windows open. This time of year, that means Claritin for everyone, but it's worth it. Until the humidity sinks in and makes everything feel wet, we love to feel like the outside comes inside. In our family, however, the real problem with that is when the inside spills out.

We're a loud family, and, by that, I don't mean that we play loud music or sit on the living room sofa for a family sing-a-long. I mean that we're a house full of yellers. When things don't go well, we yell. Kids yell. Parents yell. An elevated voice comes naturally for us. Ask once. Ask twice. Scream. I don't like it. I recognize its counter-productive nature. I wish I were the kind of parent who, when frustrated, softens my tone to an almost-whisper, but I'm not. And, when the windows are open, there's a pretty good chance that anyone walking down the street can hear just how vocal a family we are.

The prophet Isaiah envisions something else:
But here is my servant, the one I uphold;
    my chosen, who brings me delight.
I’ve put my spirit upon him;
    he will bring justice to the nations.
He won’t cry out or shout aloud
    or make his voice heard in public.
He won’t break a bruised reed;
    he won’t extinguish a faint wick,
    but he will surely bring justice.
When I think of a prophet who has come to change the course that God's people are on, I think of the bullhorn preacher, which Rob Bell portrays critically in one of his Nooma videos. Think of Jonah, the prophet who walks through Nineveh, crying out that Israel's God will come and destroy the great Assyrian city. He has no relationship with the people. In fact, he resents that God would even consider forgiving them. He's walking and yelling a message of repentance. Sound familiar?

Isaiah, too, seemed to understand that when God's people imagined a prophet they pictured that sort of figure. His words are designed to surprise them. "Here is my servant," the Lord declares. The one chosen by God, anointed with God's spirit, is the one who doesn't shout in the streets or make his voice heard in public places. So gentle is he that he wouldn't even break an already-bruised reed. So soft is his voice that he wouldn't even blow out a barely-lit candle.

During Holy Week, there is a tendency to look at the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures, especially those of Isaiah, and apply them to Jesus. The lectionary, which pairs them, seems to ask us to do that. But, instead of looking at the story of Jesus' last week and trying to fit it into the mold cast by the Old Testament prophets, I'll suggest there's more fruit in asking why God's approach to salvation, which was spoken by the ancient prophets and seen by God's people, was seen again in the person of Jesus. In other words, instead of asking in what ways is Jesus a fulfillment of Jewish prophecy, ask what Jesus and the prophets tell us about who God is and how God works in our lives.

Isaiah and Jesus remind us that we belong to a God who comes to rescue us quietly. We see in them that the one who brings justice to the whole earth accomplishes God's work not through force or volume but through meekness, gentleness, and patience. We are programmed to look for salvation in big, bold, blustery ways. We expect another Moses to come and tell Pharaoh to let us go, bringing dramatic plagues and other feats of wonder to prove his point, but God shows up in ways the world hardly notices at first. But how is God going to get anything done like that? How can I, as a parent, get anything done if I don't yell at my kids?

Salvation isn't someone tying your shoes for you or beating up the bully who bothers you. Salvation is God bringing us into God's self, into the divine life. Our place in salvation is participatory. God invites us to participate in the work of transformation. There is power in God coming among us, filling us with the Holy Spirit, and equipping us to do the work of the gospel in the world around us. But that power becomes manifest in gentle ways. Jesus is God's anointed one. He is the one who has come to execute justice, the one on whose teaching the coastlands wait. But we, too, are filled with that same Spirit to participate in that same saving work. If God only showed up in manifestations of grandeur, we could only be observers. Instead, God's strategy is to use us in clear, persistent ways that bring steady but gentle change to the world.

There are moments when God comes with a mighty hand, sweeping away all that threatens us, but we are far more likely to encounter God's salvation in the meekness of others. This week, as we journey with Jesus, we are beckoned not only to watch and marvel at the one who brings God's gentle yet complete salvation to the world but also to see our place in that strategy of salvation. If we are to become God-anointed instruments in the world, we have to put down our bullhorns and take up the persistent life of love's whispers--not to be overcome by the evils of the world but to triumph with Christ over them.

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