9bIf you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
14then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken....
Earlier in this chapter: Isaiah 58:1-9
The 66 chapters of the major prophet Isaiah can be divided into three distinct sections:
• 1st Isaiah, mostly writings from Isaiah of Jerusalem, prior to Babylon exile: chapters 1-39
• 2nd Isaiah, during exile in Babylon: chapters 40-55. Includes "Comfort ye.... every valley" we know from Handel's Messiah and other exquisitely memorably poetic passages.
• 3rd Isaiah, after the exile: chapters 56-66. Back in town trying to rebuild lives, physical and community and religious structures; attempting to restore meaning.
Everyone didn't leave Jerusalem and Judah for Babylon; of those who left, some settled permanently and helped continue to create good living conditions in Babylon—the astonishment of empire as a venue for shalom that's a peace far more than absence of conflict, peace that's total well-being and fullness of life. The first reading today is from 3rd isaiah, who wrote to the returnees during the time of reconstructing Jerusalem with hope-filled, shalom-full urban renewal.
Last week Jeremiah reminded us God is God of the exodus, the God who liberates us from slaveries of every kind, bringing us into and settling us in land that yields crops and community to help sustain us. As Jeremiah pointed out, God also is God of homecoming, the God who gathers people from exile and dispersion (any of many literal or figurative diasporas) into a trustworthy place.
A few people had stayed in Jerusalem, some of the exiles returned. The temple was gone, the city was in near-total disrepair, almost no one trusted much of anyone. They needed to rebuild the physical infrastructure of the city that would include streets, roads, meeting places, markets for sales and exchange; they needed to rebuild a reliable human substructure that would include neighborhoods of real community and hope. We need safe, reliable shelter; we need safe, reliable people.
58:12 "Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in."
This passage ties together being good neighbors with keeping sabbath. It lines out a series of "if – then" conditions regarding human behaviors, God's response, and effectiveness of the outcomes. Like much of Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and Luke, this scripture is a word about the neighbor, about the other; it's neighborology that offers guidelines for creating covenantal community where people trust God and one another—notice how this map for rebuilding shalom includes faithful Sabbath observance.
Cities and communities that have been destroyed and need rebuilding have become very familiar to us. New Orleans after Katrina; other cities after major weather events. The nearby town of Paradise after fires during fall 2018. A series of destructive earthquakes in Haiti. Fires currently raging through the Amazon rainforest. The God of liberation and homecoming also is God of resurrection! In order to be resurrected to new life, you must be dead.
Any of God's Work, Our Hands endeavors may seem small to us (most are very tiny compared with the needs that surround us). As I often remind everyone, our actions are synergistic and add up to more than the sum of all the actions.
Isaiah 58:10a "If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted..." echoes last week when again we talked about Jeremiah and his emphasis on (especially distributive) justice, social and economic equality, making sure everyone has adequate food and housing. A huge part of the covenantal ideal for distributive justice is no super-rich, no ultra poor. If you have more than you need, share it!
Historical Note: In terms of post-exilic Jerusalem, rebuilding the temple especially concerned Haggai and Zechariah; Nehemiah focused on rebuilding city walls; Ezra's passion was restoring worship. During those years God's people rediscovered Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament that form the Pentateuch); as they learned to read, study, and live by the counsel of the inspired texts, they became a People of the Book.
Sabbath:The actual Sabbath never changed from Saturday, the seventh day of the week, the final day of the original old creation [Exodus 20:1-17; Genesis 2:2-3]. The early Church started a tradition of worship on Sunday the day of resurrection, first day of the week, start of the new creation. We can assume "sabbath" as a necessary time out, a literal ceasing from producing, counting, working, but not a time of laziness and shiftlessness.