Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 11:1-5) transports me to another of the prophet’s peaceful and pastoral meadow scenes, this one punctuated by stump and shoot, with roots, branches, and fruit. The saving power of an old miraculous tree is a common theme in fantasy stories and allegories like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Isaiah’s old stump of a tree puts me in mind of another favorite book, Fried Green Tomatoes. When Ruth’s son Buddy loses his arm in an accident, their friend Idgie nicknames him “Stump” to get him ready for the inevitable teasing he will likely get from his peers.
So I’ll stretch this idea a bit and imagine this story a la Fannie Flagg or Tolkien or C.S. Lewis (the latter two were fond of writing human-like talking trees into their stories). So, an old character named Jesse lost a limb in one of the Philistine Wars, and his old man Obed nicknamed him Stump. Stump adjusted to his disability, fell in love and had a passel of boys. The runt was David, who learned from Stump not to let a little thing like being small hold you back, and he eventually made such a name for himself in the continuing Philistine Wars that he was anointed High King of the Realm. David and Stump and other faithful fighters longed for a day when the Wars would cease. Eventually, many kings later, there came to the castle a seer named Isaiah, and he carried the same hope. He did more than simply hope for the coming day of peace and justice, though; he searched for signs of it day and night. One day Isaiah looked in his crystal ball and saw it coming on the horizon. It would be one of Stump’s descendants, and Isaiah thought he could hear the young one’s nickname: Shoot. The name reminds me of the expression I heard a lot as a kid – shoot far, a mild oath more permissible for children to say than the expression from which it derived. In any case, the way Isaiah spun his prophetic tale, the boy’s name might as well have been Shoot Far, for the young Shoot would indeed go far, cutting a wide swath through the land, producing all sorts of fruit, bitter and sweet. Shoot would have a Spirit like no other, with greater wisdom and understanding, greater insight and power, greater knowledge.
Here’s the thing about Stump’s descendant, Shoot – unlike most powerful folk, who inevitably got corrupted by the power vested in them, he maintained complete righteousness and justice in every dealing. And unlike most of the high and mighty, he never lost sight of the needs of the neediest. They had his heart. And another thing about him – he could slay the wicked folks who exploited the poor and mistreated the widows and orphans without lifting a weapon. All he had to do was breathe on them and they would be out like a light. This story serves to remind us what we are searching for when we long for what Jesus called the kingdom of heaven. It is a promise (eternal life) but it is more than a promise. It is a presence (the presence of the Almighty God), but it is more than presence. It is also a practice. The promise and the presence are empty with a practice of compassionate treatment of the poor. Shoot certainly demonstrated this bias toward the downtrodden and exploited and mistreated when he showed up on the scene. As a later seer would say of him, he wound up seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion. Shoot Far indeed. I think Stump would have been mighty proud.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.