Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 1:1-18) transports me centuries back to the islands of the Caribbean, where Diego Velasquez set sail from Haiti on a quest to conquer Cuba. The Taino Indian leader Hatuey, an indigenous Haitian refugee, had preceded Velasquez to Cuba some time earlier. It was five hundred hundred years ago, 1511, when Chief Hatuey led the rebellion against the Spanish conquistadors, and became Cuba’s first national hero. We don’t have the exact date of his famous speech, but since today is the fifth day of Christmas, celebrated in the song as the day of five golden rings!, I’d like to imagine that it was on December 29. Hatuey took a basket of gold jewelry and showed it to the Taino people, and said, Here is the god the Spaniards worship. For this they fight and kill; for this they persecute us. He then led the people to throw all their gold rings and jewelry into the river, thinking that would make them less vulnerable. It did not. Hatuey’s resistance efforts were valiant, including his eventual martyrdom. It happened on February 2, 1512, when the defiant chief was tied to a stake. He was offered a chance to save his life, but when he refused to tell the conquistadors where they could find gold, they placed kindling around him in preparation for the execution. Before the match was struck, a Franciscan monk accompanying the conquering army came forward to offer Hatuey a cross, explaining that he had an opportunity to die in God’s good graces and go to heaven. Hatuey asked if Spaniards would be in heaven, and the friar responded that yes, the Christians would. The chief replied, If these Christians go to heaven, I do not want to go to heaven. Soon flames were consuming his body, and the long history of colonization of Cuba began.
The juxtaposition of religious fervor with violence and the pursuit of worldly power was not something the Spaniards invented. Isaiah begins his prophetic book with a chapter giving divine voice to the depth of God’s fury at the children’s mixing the practices of worship and injustice. In a disturbing detail not lost on the advocates of child welfare, the prophet essentially says that God is tired of beating these wayward children. Trying to whip the unruly children into shape has not worked; the holy whoopin’s have done nothing more than bruise and scar them from head to foot, leaving welts and open sores not cleaned or bandaged. God then says no more to the empty farce of worship in the wake of woeful treatment of widows and the weak, and equates the nation with the likes of Sodom and Gomorrah. (And despite what our contemporary culture warriors would have us believe, Isaiah here defines Sodomy not as sexual immorality, but as social injustice and negligence of the weak, masked by religious fervor.) The songs and rituals and offerings of these social sodomites have become unbearable burdens to the Creator and Covenant Maker. Praying hands that are stained with the blood of the victimized have not made for effectual prayers. God turns a deaf ear, calling on the people to wash up, stop doing wrong, learn to do right,which is defined here as taking care of the disadvantaged and the least fortunate in their midst, seeking justice, encouraging the oppressed, defending the cause of the fatherless, essentially all those things that would later be embodied by the life and ministry of God’s only begotten child, that child who would also suffer beatings and wounds from head to foot.
And so here we are on the fifth day of Christmas, 2011. How different is it from December 29, 1511? Are we not still infatuated with gold? Do we not live in a mezclao, a mixture of fervent worship and flagrant injustice to those most vulnerable in the world? We continue to tie Cuba to the stake with an economic blockade, because ever since the revolution of 1959 they have refused to give us ownership of their gold (sugar, rum and cigar industries). It is so unreasonable. Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins – including your sin of blockading your poorer neighbors – be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though your crazy infatuation with power politics be as red as crimson, they shall be like wool. My prayer on this fifth day of Christmas is for God’s people to follow the prophet’s call, to wash up, stop doing wrong, and act in such a manner that the Hatueys of this world will want to join us in heaven.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith.