Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday at 10:00 am CT, Adam and Lindsey host a live Girardian Virtual Bible Study following the Sunday lectionary on the Raven Foundation Facebook page. We invite our listeners to join the conversation with comments and questions. I take some notes to help me prepare… and share them with you to help you do the same! This is the Girardian Virtual Bible Study preview!
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
These words from Isaiah 6:8 immediately evoke my favorite hymn, one that I memorized as a child the day I heard it because it so captivated me: “Here I Am, Lord.” It’s a love hymn for a recalcitrant people with “hearts of stone” that God vows to break and replace with “hearts for love alone,” but eventually, even for a heard-hearted people, God will “give [God’s] life for them.” It’s a song about pain, redemption, and joy, and I am sure it will ring out through many congregations this coming Sunday.
So it is especially troubling to read the whole passage in today’s lectionary, Isaiah 6:1-13, where God sends a messenger to “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”
What is going on? Why would a loving God not want the people to “turn and be healed?”
Part of me wants to disconnect these words from Jesus and chalk this up to human misunderstanding, but I can’t do that. Jesus invokes this passage in Mark 4:11-12. Of course, Jesus goes on to heal many: to embrace lepers, eat with sinners, and pray for forgiveness to the very people killing him – all of collective humanity – from the cross. So this leaves me wondering…
Is there a danger of being healed too soon? Is there a danger in feeling healed, feeling forgiven, but not fully comprehending what one is forgiven for?
And how, exactly, could a prophet make the minds of people dull and stop their ears? Prophets speak words of truth… how would words of truth accomplish these ends?
When the truth clashes so heavily with what we think we know…
When cognitive dissonance blinds us…
When we are so caught up in a world built on lies, on the glorification of some at the expense of others, on accusations, on exceptionalism… is this when truth so overwhelms us as to strike us dumb, render all our conventional wisdom barren and useless?
“How long, O Lord,” the prophet asks, and the answer comes, “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.”
In other words, until what happens to the victims of scapegoating and marginalization happens to everyone, and a land built on exclusion and sacrifice is rendered empty.
Is that vengeance? Or something else? If compassion means to “suffer with,” what will it take for those who live according to sacrifice of others to begin to suffer with others?
We see parallels to Isaiah in the Gospel, Luke 5:1-11. It is easy to see why the lectionary puts these passages together. In both of these readings, there is a manifestation of God’s glory, witnesses who feel unworthy and express their sinfulness, a call from God, and an affirmative response.
Yet this passage evokes more hope than Isaiah, at least for me, because in Jesus we see that God is Love.
So, is this passage meant to parallel and contrast Isaiah? Or is there more continuity than we may first realize?
“From now on you will be catching people.”
What does this mean? Does it sound hopeful, or ominous?
What might the disciples have thought it meant?
What was it that compelled them to leave everything behind to follow Jesus? Especially after the best days of their careers, when they caught more fish than they could carry? If we believed God led us to success only to tell us to leave it behind, would we follow, or resist, or try to negotiate some sort of compromise?
What did they think they were getting into?
I have so many more thoughts on this upcoming Sunday’s lectionary, and I hope you do too! These passages, especially Isiah, were bewildering to me when I read them in isolation, and it took some thinking and praying to begin to wrestle out a blessing. But now I have thoughts on how to understand them, and how to apply them to our world today. We’ll discuss some current applications at the Girardian Virtual Bible Study tomorrow.
Though strange and troubling, when I read these passages through the lens of love born from the revelation of the cross and resurrection, and the slow re-orientation of the world according to the outpouring of that love, I have faith that all will be well.
Whether you’re a minister preparing your Sunday sermon or a lay person trying to better understand the Bible, whatever you believe, question, or doubt, we warmly invite you to participate with comments and questions as we seek to grow our virtual community. Your presence is more than an honor and a blessing – it’s a necessity! Since we are interdividual beings, growing in relationship with one-another, we need each other! Your participation is an integral part of the Girardian Virtual Bible Study!
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