bible blog 1586

The readings are from the Catholic leationary for daily mass while the headline is meant to keep my thinking real:


Shahindokht Molaverdi

Shahindokht Molaverdi

Isaiah 11 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
11 But a branch will emerge from the trunk of Jesse,
a shoot will grow from his roots.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and power,
the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord —

he will be inspired by fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what his eyes see
or decide by what his ears hear,

but he will judge the impoverished justly;
he will decide fairly for the humble of the land.
He will strike the land with a rod from his mouth
and slay the wicked with a breath from his lips.

Justice will be the belt around his waist,
faithfulness the sash around his hips.

The wolf will live with the lamb;
the leopard lie down with the kid;
calf, young lion and fattened lamb together,
and a little child will lead them.

Cow and bear will feed together,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

An infant will play on a cobra’s hole,
a toddler put his hand in a viper’s nest.

They will not hurt or destroy
anywhere on my holy mountain,
for the earth will be as full
of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

The peaceable kingdom

The peaceable kingdom

This prophecy has been seized by Christian readers and applied to Jesus. Isaiah, writing in the 8th century BCE was almost certainly looking to the birth of a new boy in the dynasty of David, who would one day be king. The remarkable thing is the prophet’s blueprint for a good ruler: wisdom, knowledge, counsel, power, the knowledge and fear of God are the foundation of his statecraft. He will not be swayed by hearsay but use his own intelligence. He will see the care of the destitute and humble people as his first responsibility. The judgements he gives will eradicate ruthless and wicked people. His royal garments will be justice and faithfulness.

Of course Isaiah knew that his blueprint was unlikely to be followed by any king. You might as well imagine a wolf living with a lamb! And so he imagines exactly that, insisting that God’s desire for a peaceable kingdom will create even the impossible. His words have always touched a longing that readers have not known in themselves till they read them. What on earth can it mean for humanity that beasts of prey and beasts that are preyed upon, will lie down together? And why top the whole unlikely scenario with the image of a little child shepherding the great beasts? Yet it succeeds in embodying peacefulness beyond the scope of any treaty, and reminds adults of their childlike dreams of befriending the wild things. And the prophet sums up by allowing God to speak the words that some people long and others fear to hear, “They will not hurt or destroy anywhere on my holy mountain…”

Here is a passionate politics which is rooted in a profound love of creation and the creatures of the earth, including human beings, all of whom are on a journey towards the perfection that the Creator has planned for them. Those who rule nations are given a key role in tipping the balance of history towards the justice and peacefulness of God. 

And yet… and yet… who invented evolution and the need for creatures to prey on each other? Who arranged for human beings to have outsized brains and undersized control of their aggression? Who but the Creator, if there is one. Destruction seems endemic to life. Against the evidence Isaiah tells us that it is unnatural; and that human beings are asked to imagine a peaceful nature and to work for it. All the hopeful politics of the world-  Green parties everywhere, populist movements like Podemos and Syryza, practical socialism as in Uruguay, Social Democracy in Europe, all who abide by the rule of law- imagine a form of peace and work for it. The vision of Isaiah is encouragement to them and to all who hate destruction.

Luke 10:21-24 ©
Filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them in private, ‘Happy the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’

Jewish father and son

Jewish father and son

There are no capitals in the Greek for the words father and son. Certainly Jesus talks of his father. But the the bit about the mutual knowledege of father and son is modelled on the special intimacy of human sons and human fathers in Jesus’ culture. I don’t think that in these words Jesus is claiming a unique relationship with God. All of God’s sons ( and daughters!) can reveal the father, inasmuch as they are all empowered by God’s spirit. But they are children, seeking no adult power or status and therefore open to the spirit of God who works through the least important.

This is the point where our two passages touch. Jesus was not a politician, but he knew that God’s rule in the world required witnesses, not members of any royal dynasty, but royal people nonetheless, who without power or celebrity would demonstrate the peace that God offers to all his children. Jesus’ joy comes from knowing that he is sharing this vocation with others.

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