Rev Katherine Rainger reflects on the ancient and contemporary desire for peace.
Grace in a dissonant world
Rev Megan Powell du Toit reminds us that injustice always calls for the grace of gentleness.
Daily Reading Isaiah 42:1-9
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.
This lyrical prophecy is addressed to a people in exile. It follows a chapter in which God’s people have been repeatedly told not to fear. We ourselves live in a time of fear. We fear the marginalisation of Christianity within our society, an increasingly polarised political sphere, and a creation become hostile through climate change. I myself hold such fears alongside all my personal fears of rejection, impotency and loss. I am someone who knows the pinching grip of anxiety intimately. So, I do not mean to underplay any of these fears. Just as Israel had legitimate reason for lament in exile, we too have reason to cry out in lament. And yet as people of Jesus, how are we to respond to such fears?
This prophecy is one that is applied to Christ in Matthew 12:15-21, in a passage which is bookended by rejection of Jesus by the Pharisees. Against this rejection, we hear the stark contrast of an emphatic acceptance by God. Jesus is chosen and delighted in. It reflects the jarring dissonance we feel in our own days: God is at work in the world, bringing his kingdom; and we perceive a world in which God seems absent and his servants are impotent or despised.
Jesus, as the servant par excellence, is seen through Isaiah 42, to be a surprisingly low-key representative of the God of glory. This God created the heavens and spread out the earth, and yet his chosen servant does not cry or lift up his voice or make it heard in the street. How then, will he proclaim justice? In a way that reminds us that justice and love are not at odds with each other, but instead in partnership. God’s justice is one that looks to the needs of the vulnerable and marginalised. And we see here a servant who acts with the gentleness that recognises vulnerability. The bruised reed is unbroken, the smouldering wick remains lit. The personal reality of an unjust world is that it is populated by people who are bruised and flickering. Injustice always calls for the grace of gentleness.
In Jesus we see a servant for a dissonant world. Dissonance should create yearning for that which should be, that which is to come. True yearning always spills into action. If we yearn for a just world, we cannot help but act to bring it. To follow in the path of our servant king is to seek to bring justice, healing, and freedom. We should not be content to leave the world as it is. And yet yearning must not become zealotry. We do not bring God’s justice through loud arrogant voices, or through a heavy step in the world that crushes people underfoot or extinguishes their flame in its wake. In sure hope of coming justice in Jesus, the one who was not crushed, we are freed to act in love in the midst of fear and healing in the midst of violence.
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