Excerpted from the NC Council of Churches Lenten Guide, “Love One Another: Reflections on Race, Power, and Privilege”
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
This Third Sunday in Lent, we hear the words of Isaiah, speaking to a community that has long been exiled in Babylon. To a community far away from home, their lives in the hands of an empire that defeated them, their hopes of seeing home again waning after so many years, Isaiah says, “delight yourselves in rich food.” To the exiled listener, this sounds like a luxury out of reach. But Isaiah is inviting them to see an alternative vision of the world – one where God’s promises to David extend to all, and all are invited to participate in the restoration of their lives as covenant people. Even while they are living in a strange land under the rule of a foreign empire, Isaiah offers an alternative vision.
We hear these words during our Lenten journey to the cross, so we hear them in conversation with the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus offered an alternative way to live within the rule of the Roman Empire – another empire, another call of the people of God to live differently within it. Jesus challenged individuals to leave their lives and follow him, but he also challenged the ideals and system of Empire. Rome ruled by might, Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth. Rome oppressed, Jesus set free. Those whom Rome and the societal norms of the day cast out, Jesus embraced. “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.”
We also hear these words in a time of turmoil – a climate where rhetoric of hate is appealing to many. We live in an all too familiar Empire, ruled by money, greed, and the interests of the few, no matter who is exploited or forgotten along the way. We live in a system based on racism and inequity, a system that privileges those with white skin, yet has a vested interest in white people denying this fact. Isaiah offers this alternative vision for living within an Empire – where all are welcomed, invited, nourished, and delighted. This surely is a foreign, far-fetched vision in our land of food deserts, where even basic nutrition is not accessible to all (let alone delight!). Yet Isaiah also offers a call for repentance. Even though he says, “let the wicked forsake their way” (and most of us would like to focus on the “their”) we are all included in this call to repent. We all participate in the injustice of Empire, and many of us, particularly those of us with white skin, benefit from it. So we repent, we hope, and we take up the mission of living into this alternative vision. Dismantling systems of power and race to live into the vision of Isaiah and the vision of Jesus where the system is not skewed to benefit the few, where violence does not win the day but all thrive and live an abundant life, seems like only that: a vision, a dream. There is a profound gap between where we are and where we need to be.
And yet, God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts. God calls us beyond our imaginations, our abilities, and our understanding, and this is the good news; this is where God meets us. We must face these systems of power and race and day by day live more fully into God’s vision with both repentant and hopeful hearts.
Prayer: God of endless grace and welcome, help us to stand for light, love, equality, compassion, and hope even when our reality is so far from your vision for the world. Let us lessen divides, broaden welcome, and usher in justice as we journey to the cross this Lent. Amen.