Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 26:11-19) transports me to labor and delivery, where the body politic of ancient Israel is struggling mightily to give birth to a new sense of hope. They have been in exile, they have been occupied, they have been chastened for failure to live up to the covenant. And now, they are pregnant with the desire for peace. The prophet speaks of the laboring woman in travail, screaming curses against the oppressive rulers who lorded it over them. The curses turn to prayers poured out for the covenant life to be born anew. It’s interesting to remember that the original covenant called for the people to be a light to the nations. In Latin America, the phrase for a woman giving birth is dar la luz, to bring to the light. Isaiah portrays the body politic of Israel writhing in distress in the attempt to dar la luz, to bear the covenant and once again bring the light of love to the nations.
But, alas, it is a false labor. In one of the more immodest images of scripture, Isaiah says that the expectant nation gave birth only to wind. We tried to push salvation into the world, but all we could muster was stinking gas! In the throes of discouragement, the prophet laments, We have won no victories on earth, and no one is born to inhabit the world. Remember, Isaiah had some pretty idealistic and progressive notions of what being a light to the nations meant – turning swords into plowshares, transforming enemies into friends in a peaceable kingdom governed by the Prince of Peace. He envisioned health and wellness, with a great light shining on the land of people who dwell in the shadow of death. And I can imagine his frustration as the ideals continued to be aborted. People apparently prayed hard, and groaned in travail for God to deliver them and restore them, but even in their piety they couldn’t give up their addiction to swords and spears, to the old animosities and fears, to the dis-ease that kept them shadowed. And so he says they were essentially full of gas. The prophet’s hope is unrelenting, though, as he concludes this passage with a defiant statement that new life will indeed break forth, and he calls once again for the body politic to rise up out of the dust and sing for joy in hopes that the earth will once again give birth, will once again dar la luz.
It is striking to me how contemporary Isaiah is for our own body politic. We are a praying people, a people screaming and writhing in pain as our economy goes through what is fittingly called a severe contraction. But I hear of people of faith who are so addicted to the sword, to the old animosities, to the dis-ease and shadows of death, that their prayers are accompanied by public cheering of the prospect that people on death row will be executed (despite evidence that many innocent people are put to death); they pray and then they scream out for the government to let the uninsured die. They read their Bibles and then they swear on their mother’s grave never to ask millionaires to contribute another dime to the common good. The government is not yet on the shoulders of the Prince of Peace. The body politic is not bringing light to the nations, but in its false labor is simply breaking wind in a mighty way and royally stinking it up. So maybe the best we can do is hold our nose and try to get to that defiant space of unrelenting hope the prophet ended with, and renew his call for the people of faith who share the prophet’s ideals to sing for joy, despite all the evidence. Maybe some Paul Simon is in order: No I would not give you false hope, on this strange and mournful day, but the mother and child reunion is only a motion away. I thought of this song last night as I heard the news that Troy Davis had been executed in Georgia, in spite of mountains of evidence and advocacy efforts that should have led to his sentence being commuted. I can’t for the life of me remember a sadder day, I know they say let it be, but it just don’t work out that way, and the course of a lifetime runs over and over again. No, I would not give you false hope on this strange and mournful day, but the mother and child reunion is only a motion away. Push. Breathe. Deliver the light. Dar la luz.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.