Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 6:9-10) transports me to Grammar Rock, (remember grammar’s not your Grandma it’s your grammar?) where the force of an imperative case backs zealous missionaries into a confounded corner. We mission-minded folk love the first few verses of Isaiah 6, where the prophet envisions his dramatic encounter with the Holy. The call and response is nothing short of lyrical – Whom shall I send? . . .Here am I Lord, send me. We sing it in anthems and choruses. What follows has not found its way into our hymnals or praise books, though. It confounds orthodox understandings of a loving God who sends missionaries out to save the world. The holy imperative sounds just the opposite: Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed. And it gets worse for us lovers of an all-loving God: Isaiah in a moment of hesitation understandably asks, For how long, O Lord? and gets God’s troubling response: Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged.
So you find lots of notes in Bibles and commentaries that say something like What the verse really means is. . . Since Jesus quoted these verses in our primary passage this week (the parable of the sower and the soils), maybe His story can help shed some light on how the all-loving God can commission such a fruitless missionary enterprise. Maybe God preceded the call of Isaiah by going out into the fields and doing some soil sampling, and found much of what Jesus described in his parable. Maybe God found hearts so hard-pressed to meet the world’s expectations that they couldn’t receive love. Maybe God found hearts so scared of being scorned by the world that their fears kept love from taking root. Maybe God found hearts so filled with cares and anxieties over protecting wealth that any love they did have would soon be choked out. Having done this soil sampling, God still would not withhold love. But God knew what love would do. It would blind and deafen and dull. But God would not refuse them grace, even if grace would lead to their ruin and self-destruction.
Maybe the old song from Nazareth was right; depending on the state of the receiver, sometimes love hurts, love scars, love wounds and marks. Maybe Bette Midler was right, some say love it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed. Maybe the violent force of love described by God to Isaiah is a destructive tiller with razor sharp tines cutting through the hardest of hearts, to cultivate space to bury seeds of love. Maybe it s a force that pulverizes rocks so that love can take deep root in loose soil. Maybe it is a force that uproots and burns away briers threatening to choke out love. Maybe it is a love that keeps on blinding until the things of this world grow strangely dim. It keeps on deafening until the things of this world grow strangely silent. Or maybe I’m just parsing the grammar and this is just my version of saying what the passage really means is. . . Until we figure that out, let’s pray for all the missionaries who have heard Isaiah’s call and are out deafening and blinding and dulling the world’s senses.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.