Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
God’s spirit is on me.
God has chosen me,
And sent me to rally the oppressed,
To mend broken hearts,
To announce the captives’ emancipation
And the prisoners’ release,
To declare that this year God will rescue
And today God will be vindicated.
To comfort the mourners:
To take care of Zion’s mourners,
Replacing their ashes with trophies,
Replacing their funeral clothes with party clothes,
Replacing their dejection with celebration.
They will be called Oaks of Justice
Planted by God to show how great God is.
They’ll rebuild what’s been long destroyed,
They’ll raise what’s been written off,
They’ll restore cities from shambles
Abandoned for generations.
I, God, love justice.
I hate robbery and deceit.
I’ll surely give them what they’re owed,
And I’ll make them a binding contract.
Their descendents will be famous all over the world,
Their children among every race.
Everyone who sees them will agree
That they have God’s blessing.
I’ll be glad because of God,
My whole being will thrill with God,
For God has dressed me in the trappings of victory,
Wrapped me in robes of justice,
Like a groom puts on his corsage,
And a bride puts on her jewelry.
As the earth grows plants
And a garden grows seeds,
So God grows justice and gratitude
Wherever there are people.
It’s worth stopping to think about how radical, even revolutionary, this poetry is. Start with just the idea that God would make a binding contract with people who have no legal status. Let alone rallying the oppressed, emancipating the slaves, and orchestrating a massive jail break. Think about it. There is a reason those cities have been destroyed, abandoned and not rebuilt. Someone wants them that way. There’s a reason why we (yes we) write some people off. But this poem will not allow people to remain written off.
No less radical the idea that justice and gratitude are going to grow in people as naturally as seeds grow in soil. It’s just not how we typically see people behave. Sure, there are lots of just and gracious people. But in the present situation, it’s hard to say whether they are so far in the majority as to be viewed as a “natural occurrence.”
So, here’s the question. Is this a utopian dream (or a terrible nightmare, depending on which side you’re on)? Or is it something that really is achievable?
And the answer is: it’s both. Or it can be. It would be only a utopian vision of justice for the poor and the masses, except for the first line: “God’s spirit is on me.” None of it is possible unless the one who is reading it hears it as her own words and calling. That’s how Jesus would one day read it in a Nazarene synagogue (Luke 4:18-21). He read it with the understanding that it applied directly to himself. But until someone – you perhaps – read it with the understanding that this was not meant to be Isaiah’s calling or Jesus’ calling, but your calling, it remains merely fantasy.
Is it real? Will the revolution live? Will the oppressed be emancipated? Will there be just and gracious people where you live?
Yes, but only if you make it so. It depends – and we’re depending – entirely on you.