Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 29:1-12) transports me to the undersea world of Poseidon and Triton and the little mermaid herself, Ariel, who is besieged by the witch Ursula and loses her voice in the process of winning back the Prince. Ok, so Disney is a long way from Isaiah, but I couldn’t resist, given the way the prophet speaks of Jerusalem in the feminine as Ariel, who is besieged and loses her voice. Her speech mumbles out of the dust, comes ghostlike from the earth, becoming a whisper. Where are Flounder and Scuttle when you need them? The name Ariel literally means Lion of God in Hebrew, and Isaiah is referencing Jerusalem as the lion that suffers mightily before receiving vindication. While early Christians didn’t make the Disney connection, they did see the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Jesus, in the outline of the story. He was brought low, taking on the form of a suffering servant, was God-forsaken on the cross, and then was vindicated by God on that earth-shattering third day. One day, Isaiah said, the LORD Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise. No wonder the post-resurrection believers read this as a Jesus passage.
The prophet’s words would also have resonated with the pre-resurrection followers whose belief had been severely shaken. Like those deserters and betrayers and deniers there in Gethsemane, sleep will overtake the hordes who besiege Ariel: They will be as it is with a dream, with a vision in the night – as when a hungry man dreams that he is eating, but he awakens, and his hunger remains; as when a thirsty man dreams that he is drinking, but he awakens faint, with his thirst unquenched. And then they will wake up with a terrible hangover, as the Messiah slips them a mickey. They will wake up with the blind staggers, but not from strong drink. The vision of all this, Isaiah says, will be written down and passed around, stunning even the highly literate prophetic seers into a stupor, as they are unable to interpret the message from God. The illiterate will simply respond: We can’t read! I couldn’t help imagining that closing line read with a British accent, maybe even having the entire passage enacted by the Monty Python troupe. I can picture John Cleese as the stupefied seer trying to interpret the scroll with the aid of a bystander, played by Graham Chapman, who finally exasperates him with the famous line, I can’t read! If you haven’t heard or seen The Bookshop sketch, you can check it out here.
Stunned, staggering, sightless, it’s the spiritual morning-after experience whenever we desert our discipleship duty, forgoing the cross and the radical Way of love. Whenever we stupefy ourselves with the spirits of this world and find ourselves floundering in the undersea currents of the culture’s norms, we can always call on the spirit of Disney, and sing with Ariel: Up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun, wanderin’ free – wish I could be part of that world. Or we can call on the spirit of Monty Python and wander off to the bookshop to read The Amazing Adventures of Captain Gladys Stoutpamphlet and her Intrepid Spaniel Stig Amongst the Giant Pygmies of Beckles. . . (Volume Eight). Or we can simply get back to the Jesus way (which may at times include a bit of John Cleese humor, and maybe even some cheesy Disney music).
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.