Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 1:1-8) transports me to a Blockbuster video store, back in the day before Redbox and video streaming, when people actually went into these stores and wandered up and down the aisles trying to decide on a movie to rent. I was one of those who would spend way too much time deciding, and then finally I’d get a video home, plop it in, and before too long get a déjà vu feeling, realizing I’d seen the movie already. For some odd reason, I did this several times with Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, which is a great movie and well worth more than a single viewing, so I always watched it to the end. While the primary theme of the movie is the complexity of race and the challenges of cross-cultural relationships, a strong sub-theme is the relation of fathers and sons. Ossie Davis leads a star-studded cast as the Good Reverend Doctor Purify, one of the fathers of the movie, with two sons who disappoint him for very different reasons. Flipper Purify, a successful architect played by Wesley Snipes, has left the faith of his father for the way of the white man’s material world. His brother, Gator Purify, played by Samuel L. Jackson, has left the faith for the way of drug addiction. As many times as I’ve watched it, I’m always riveted by the scene late in the movie when the Good Reverend Doctor comes home to find Gator berating his mother because she won’t give him money for drugs. Gator had already stolen the Good Reverend Doctor’s color television set, and when his mother asks him where it’s at, he blithely confesses that he smoked it. When the father tries to get him to leave, Gator refuses, first going into a step ‘n fetchit dance routine, then threatening them out of desperation. The Good Reverend Doctor laments the situation, telling Gator, My own flesh and blood, my firstborn son, and I love you. Then he says, I’ll pray for you my son, starts praying, Father, I stretch my hands to thee, and severs their relationship, for good. With the wailing mother holding her dying son, the Good Reverend Doctor places his gun on the open Bible laying on the end table.
When Jesus was browsing through the blockbuster of biblical material he grew up with, he seems to have checked out the prophet Isaiah more than once. The prophet provides him with lots of material for his preaching and teaching. I have to wonder, as Jesus chided the Jewish authorities for dishonoring father Abraham, and as he expanded the conversation to cover the theme of God as Father, if he had the beginning of Isaiah in mind. The prophet begins his book by giving voice to God, who laments the rebellion of the children. Even the ox knows its master, and the mule recognizes the hand that feeds it, but the people of Israel have forgotten whose children they are. They have left the faith of their fathers for a life of corruption. We can read on in the prophecy to see that in their geopolitical context, the people had turned their backs on God for the addictive promises of military might and foreign alliances. Like a desperate crackhead, they are past the point of discipline. There’s no beating any sense into their heads. There is no soundness, the prophet hears the divine Father grieving, from the sole of the foot to the top of the head. Like Gator and his junkie friends who live in the abandoned building they call the Taj Mahal, the people are lying there with wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil.
I’ve always had a hard time connecting with the stern, judgmental father God figure of passages like this. I’ve lived a sheltered life, and having a loving, tender relationship with my Dad kept me at a distance from these divine rants and tirades. Watching Spike Lee’s brilliant portrayal of the deep angst that emerges from family dynamics that are plagued by grievous disappointment and addiction, though, gives me an insight into the truth of the prophetic passages. I can begin to understand what grief the divine generative life force, the spirit of life that animates all of creation, aka, God the Father, must endure when we created beings leave the faith of our fathers for the material world, or for the world of addiction. You don’t have to look far in our world to see evidence of a culture that in many ways has abandoned the Way of radical love and contentment and welcome, for the Taj Mahal of violence and greed and fear. The prophet might look at our land and see no soundness, from head to foot. Thankfully, the rest of the prophetic story gives us more hope than Jungle Fever. It’s worth re-reading, just to get to the riveting passages of grace.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and to share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.