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desolate land
Photo credit: <a href="">Eric Wüstenhagen</a>

Zechariah 7:8-14

God spoke to Zechariah, and said, “Here’s what I say: Don’t take advantage of widows, orphans, foreigners, or poor folk. Don’t conspire to do what you know is wrong.”

But they refused to listen, shrugged their shoulders, and ignored what they heard. They barred the doors of their hearts so they wouldn’t have to hear what the law said, or what God inspired previous truth-tellers to say. So God was totally pissed.

“Just like when I called they wouldn’t respond, so when they called I wouldn’t respond,” God says. “And I blew them away all across the map, to places they’d never heard of.”

The land was left desolate. Nobody lived there and a wonderfully good place was ruined.

You can say that God is totally pissed, or you could call it karma, or you can simply recognize that the both the sustainability and desirability of a place and of a community is dependent on how it treats it’s most vulnerable:

…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

-from Hubert H. Humphrey’s last speech.

 A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.

-Mahatma Ghandi

More recently Jared Diamond wrote a fascinating study, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, in which he connects the collapse of civilizations to mistreatment of the land they inhabit.

It’s not that warning signs are lacking. Whether you interpret them as coming from God or as the natural feedback of the biosphere, it’s the refusal to take corrective action in favor of clinging to short-sighted advantages that leads to ruin.

The flip side, of course, is that by paying attention to the signs, and doing what you know is right, things can also be redeemed from desolation.

You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution. Your choice.

Inside the Supreme Court

Supreme Court
Photo credit: <a href="">D B King</a>

Zechariah 3

 Then God showed me Joshua, the high priest, standing before God’s messenger. The prosecutor stood on his right to accuse him. And God said to the prosecutor, “I, who have chosen Jerusalem, find you, prosecutor, in contempt of court. This man is a burning branding iron pulled from the fire.”

Now Joshua was wearing filthy rags as he stood before the messenger, and God said, “Get rid of his filthy rags.” And then to Joshua, “Look here, you’re acquitted, and I hereby award you new clothes suitable for a gala.” Then God said, “Put a clean hat on his head.” And they put a clean hat on his head and dressed him in his new clothes while the messenger stood by.

Then God’s messenger addressed Joshua: “God says, ‘If you conduct yourself as I instruct you and keep to my agenda you will lead my people and preside in my courtroom, and you will be admitted to heaven’s council chambers.’

“Now listen up, High Priest Joshua and Associate Justices of the court. You are a sign that I am about to pull out my branding iron.

“‘On the stone I have set before Joshua there are seven facets upon which I will engrave the decree,’ God says, ‘and I will acquit the whole nation in one day.’ God says, ‘Then everyone will have their neighbors over to hang out together.'”

In a theocracy, you go to church instead of going to court. In a theocracy the church is the court. People still get the two confused. Nobody in church wore robes until the church became the court system for the Roman government. And Jesus never wore a robe until the day they put one on him to stand trial in court. And then they took it off him before he was executed.

The problem with the church as court, or the court as church, in Zechariah’s time and now, is that justice tends to get set aside in favor of what the people wearing the robes prefer. In spite of outward appearances, the filthy rags in Zechariah’s vision represent the current state of justice in the community. With the new robes comes a restoration of justice and the conditions where neighbors can live in peace with one another.

That’s the truth-teller’s vision. And it applies to any court, theocratic or not.

Some folks think the burning branch (or brand) is talking about Jesus. It’s not. But Jesus made it about himself by being an advocate for real justice for common folk. He didn’t have to be the Chief Justice to do justice wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself. And, for that matter, neither do any of us.

We’re Depending on You

Photo credit: <a href="">Beatrice Murch</a>

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.