Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 28:16-17) transports me a few years back to the Old Place, the family land on which we built our house. When Daddy decided it was time for his third son to be under a roof of his own, not simply relying on the good graces of parsonage landlords, he called my cousin Gene to come out and survey the land so each of us boys could go ahead and get our share. Gene and his brother Steve came out and traipsed all through the thick brush and undergrowth of the mountain to get their measurements. Gene would find a place to position the transit, and Steve would go a ways ahead and hold the plumb line until Gene, looking through the lens, yelled out Good! I heard a lot of goods yelled out that day, and figured it was as appropriate a word as any to describe the lines of the land that the family had lived on for so many generations. When the land was later cleared and we started work digging the foundations, Daddy’s 90-year-old cousin Broadus came to supervise the work. He brought a transit square with him to make sure the foundation was dug at exact angles, but he really didn’t need it. Broadus could eyeball the line with his 90-year-old eyes and come within a scotia of having it spot on. To be sure, he would check his naked eye measurements with the transit, and invariably would call out, fair and square! (both words rhyming with “far”). He did the same thing after the foundation was poured and the mason came to lay the first block, the cornerstone. With the transit checking his eyesight measurement again, he yelled out fair and square and the masons started work. Later, the guys hanging drywall told us that in all their years of work they had never been in a house so perfectly square.
The prophet, railing against the community for breaking covenant and forming an alliance with Assyria (aka death and hell), inserts a bit of poetic justice to communicate what the Master Builder has in mind for the people. God will lay a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation. Rely on this stone, Isaiah says, and you’ll never be in a panic. Fairness is the measuring stick and righteousness the plumb line. The building will be on sure footing, safe from the storm. But the hiding place, the house of sand built by foolish and faithless leaders who trusted in collaboration with worldly powers will be swept away by the hail. The lies of power will be washed away in the flood.
Life is rarely fair and square. It is a long way out of plumb. But we have a transit to look through, a lens of faith that shows the life and teaching and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus, a cornerstone of fairness and justice and love and mercy we can build our lives on. It gives a new angle to the old hymn, When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the prince of glory died, my riches gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride. Looking through that transit lens, we see the exact degree to which we need to square our lives with the life of Jesus: a heart plumb full of love for our enemies, plumb tickled to see and welcome the strangers in our midst, and plumb free to share what we have with the poor. As we traipse through the thick brush and undergrowth of this world’s unfairness and foolish pride, we would do well to keep holding up the plumb line for each other, and listen for those confirming words: Good! Fair and square!
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.