Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Faithful Servant

He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. (Isaiah 42.2-4)

Premature Battle Fatigue

Much of the northern hemisphere is experiencing an unusually hot and savage summer. Regions that need no more rain—like Iowa, Northern China, and Pakistan—have been deluged, while Russia crackles and burns. Here in the States, we’re in the early throes of what’s already an unusually hot and savage Congressional electoral campaign. (We hold biannual elections because we’re masochists.) The hot weather combined with the overheated rhetoric makes both doubly exhausting. The hopes that ushered in the current Administration vaporized long ago, almost immediately, in fact, when the opposition made it very clear every debate would be hobbled by political ideology, not guided by civic principles. Life here has become a “Road Runner” cartoon. While one side wants progress, the other hatches schemes to foil it. Objective viewers chuckle at how often the strategy blows up. But the opposition’s genius surfaces in how cleverly it’s bleached reason from the landscape. Somehow it’s convinced a large sector of the population the Road Runner is the villain and Wile E. Coyote is the hero.

At four months short of the Administration’s midpoint, many of us are dealing with premature battle fatigue. Nerves are frayed, hopes battered, and friendships bruised. Why must everything that’s said or decided be a polarizing issue? When did middle ground turn into a sinkhole? For American believers who watched as their nation steamrollered clear-cut Biblical standards of justice, compassion, and peace, the strain feels all the greater. The call for a return to godly principles might be answered if it could be heard. But the din of greed, prejudice, and conscious disregard for the least among us has become our national anthem—often sung around the flagpole of religion. This isn’t the American way. It surely isn’t Christ’s way. And we who disagree with it must take care not to abandon our ideals in hopes of protecting them. This fight that feels bigger than we is actually beneath us. Those who contradict God’s Word while claiming to honor it cannot stand. They will fall—sooner than many expect, because they’re not as safe and secure as most seem to think. The current model for sociopolitical engagement is founded on bad faith, suspicion, and bravado. (That’s why it’s beneath us.) The model we’re to follow is Isaiah 42’s portrait of the faithful servant.

An “Inside Voice”

We’re conditioned to read Isaiah as The Treasure Chest of Messianic Promises. And that it is. No prophecy approaches its eloquence and accuracy. Yet we minimize its worth by not recalling its impetus. Isaiah spoke to a people consumed with religious pride and mischief. Their haughty presumption that God’s favor was a right instead of a gift gave birth to a reckless sense of entitlement. They flocked to the Temple, where they put on an impressive show of piety that fooled everyone but God and His prophet. The prophecy begins with scalding condemnation of Israel’s self-deception. In making a spectacle of itself, it neglected the disadvantaged and disenfranchised within its borders. This puts a vastly different spin on the lyrical passages we trot out during Advent and Holy Week. The Promised One is coming not to rout Israel’s tormenters and establish a Hebrew empire. He’ll be sent to correct its faults and remediate its deficiencies. Since Israel has a real knack for confusing politics with priorities, Isaiah 42 says the Messiah will subvert every human method and impulse.

He’ll assume a lesser—some might even say passive—role that underscores His reliance on God. Verse 1 reads: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” The Spirit will endow Him with an “inside voice” in every sense. He will be internally driven to rise above external influences and threats. But He’ll also master the carnal impulse to drown out His opponents and prove His superiority in the public square. “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets,” verse 2 declares. Yes, He will speak against Israel’s folly; that’s His charge. But it’s unnecessary for Him to engage in their folly in order to defeat it.

He will be a gentle Savior, a caring King, and a just Ruler Who cherishes the wounded and perishing among His people. I love how Isaiah captures this: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (v3) No one will be unworthy of His love and protection. Surely this will fan outrage in Israel’s classist society by putting an end to privilege and transference of power. They’ll dig in their heels, question His authority, and mock His methods. But they’ll make a fatal mistake by misjudging His quiet nature as weakness of character. Not sacrificing His integrity to their game will give Him stamina to defeat their ploys by outlasting them. “In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on the earth,” Isaiah writes. (v3-4) This Faithful Servant won’t be concerned with winning the day. He’s coming to establish justice. He’s in it for the long haul. He is our model.

At the Proper Time

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” Galatians 6.9 instructs. Our work is not in the streets, trying to shout down belligerent bellowing of self-deceived, self-serving fools. We work among bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. The voice inside us reminds us how much power we accrue by using our “inside voices.” Our gentleness, care, and commitment to justice resound in our words and actions. What others perceive as weakness of character is really integrity that energizes and enables us to outlast our adversaries. Faithfulness is the key that brings forth justice. Let the coyotes win the day if they must. Faithful servants are roadrunners. We have stamina to burn and tenacity to last. Most of all we have faith. At the proper time—and no sooner—our faithfulness will bear fruit if we don’t give up.

Like Wile E. Coyote, those seeking to undermine compassion and justice may think their schemes sound. But our integrity as faithful servants gives us stamina and tenacity to defeat them.


jake said...

I would so love to pass this on to a few individuals in particular.

Thankfully, I see people on the "other side of the aisle" starting to grow weary of it all as well. They haven't given up on the ideology, per se, but the tactics being used are starting to wear the patience of the average citizen.

It's my hope and prayer that as more and more people wake up to see what has been going on, it will give them pause to reconsider not just the means, but the end.

Tim said...

Jake, I'm sensing the same thing. I don't believe a nation run on relentless hostility is what the vast majority of Americans want their country to be. I'm eager to respect anyone's political ideology, provided it leads to a positive end. But very little, if any, good comes from one party's stubbornness stalling the other's efforts. And I find any party whose agenda is undoing the work of the other reprehensible.

The people spoke in 2008 and the opposition has done everything it can to deny their wishes. Thankfully, we've succeeded remarkably well despite them. But why anyone would trust them to honor their word if given control of Congress after such a blatant dismissal of majority mandate baffles me.

I pray you're right. This constant bickering has caused us to lose our way. In the meantime, we who know what will please our Maker must persist in our efforts. We can't sink to their level of foolishness. As a late friend of mine always said, "God don't like ugly!"

Blessings, my friend. It's great seeing you here!

claire said...

I find that I get so bleak when I look around and listen to what is being said that the only solution I see is that nonviolent action, peaceful disobedience...

I am not sure yet how I will be able to do this. But I must. I am done with outrage and wringing my hands. I am looking for quiet action that will be louder than words.

I'll gladly accept suggestions :-)

Sherry Peyton said...

Oh Tim, you continually buoy me up and give me hope. There are days I approach my reader with a sigh, only to find more insane stories about the usual nonsense. I'm sure some of my weariness comes from the summer itself and how difficult it is being cut off from life so much. But there are precious few good stories out there being reported.

Thank you as always for renewing me if only briefly. I keep working at keeping my gaze upward and not downward. It is a work in progress.


Tim said...

Claire, I truly believe we all can be captains of little "movements" (remember the video I posted on FB) that can contribute to reversing this tide. I think of the great non-violent, peaceful resistance heroes--Gandhi, MLK, et al.--and remember they were taught these things by parents and people who did rally thousands. We never know whose life we're affecting when we respond to hate, violence, and ugliness as faithful servants.

Sherry, an upward gaze is not easy to maintain. We keep bumping into temptations to be downcast. Perhaps it's like any other muscular/reflexive training; we keep working at it until it becomes easier and easier...

Thank you both for your comments. I count you both as dear, invaluable friends!

Blessings and joy,