Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 43:8-28) transports me southwest to Ghost Ranch, a retreat center now run by the Presbyterians in the haunting landscape of the New Mexico badlands. As a fan of the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, I was happy to finally visit Ghost Ranch a few years ago. It was the adopted home of the legendary artist, and I found that every trail and hill offered a clear view of what inspired her larger than life landscapes. It is a place of harsh beauty, where jackals and owls and rock formations pay homage under a painted sky to the Creator and Redeemer of life. And it is a place of harsh history, filled with stories of Native American resistance to the Spanish efforts to colonize and Christianize and cull out the wealth of the region. It is the badlands in more ways than one. Stories of continuing resistance to the efforts of forced assimilation abound.
Reading today’s passage almost leads me to believe the prophet Isaiah had visited Ghost Ranch. The view of the Middle East badlands inspired him the way the American Southwest badlands inspired O’Keeffe. Like the artist’s land, the prophet’s desert is filled with stories of injustice and broken covenants. Isaiah paints a picture of God as Judge and Jury calling on the nations of the world to bring their witnesses to this deserted land. In come those who have been blinded by ambition, unable to see the Way even though they have 20-20 vision, those who have been deafened by alluring voices, unable to discern the Call even though they have perfect hearing. Judge G taunts these defendants: Bring on your witnesses and let’s see if they can convince us they are telling the truth. God calls Israel as witness to the history of redemption and liberation. But then God cuts them short and says in essence, Forget history; I’m fixing to do a new thing. I’m making a watery way through these desert wastelands. That must have sounded like good news to the parched and thirsty witnesses, but God then switches gears and starts making a case against these very witnesses who have been called. The people of God have forgotten who they are. Instead of lavishing God with praise, they have burdened God with sin. So the delivered ones are now doomed to destruction. The live stream from the desert will have to wait.
Fast forward to Jesus in front of the high court. From all accounts, the prophet Isaiah provided Jesus with his favorite reading material; more is quoted from that book than any other in Matthew’s gospel. He knew about this desert drama, with the very people God blessed with the vision of covenant relationship now as blind and deaf as the nations around them. None but the wild animals are left to bring faithful praise. And Jesus knew the price of this failure: disgrace, destruction, and scorn. And he knows what he has to do. He embodies their verdict. He suffers disgrace, dis-grace, the absence of God’s grace. He suffers scorn and destruction of his spirit. He looks around and sees the badlands landscape of a faithless world, and a stream flows from his broken heart, bringing life to the desert in a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. I can hear the Boss giving a soundtrack to this visual masterpiece: Badlands, you gotta live it every day, let the broken heart stand as the price you gotta pay.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.