Note: This is the last in the series of unprecedented prayers for unprecedented times. Please read my final word at the end of today's devotion.
Prepare to Listen. Light the candle of hope and prepare to receive these ancient words as new and fresh as ever.
Prayerfully Read Isaiah 61:1-4
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
I know, this text isn’t a lament. But I wanted to end the series of unprecedented prayers with a vision of what we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, are called to proclaim and enact. And it won’t be easy. According to Luke, Jesus read verses 1-2a in the Nazareth synagogue on the sabbath, claimed he’d come to fulfill these words, and the people wanted to throw him off a cliff (see Lk 4:18ff)! You see, the Jewish community understood Isaiah’s words referred to a time when there will be a reordering of the internal economics of society, a levelling between the haves and the have-nots. Perhaps covid-19 has begun to do this, but that’s not what Isaiah had in mind. Jews knew the vision referred to Jubilee, a 50th sabbatical year of rest, for people, animals, the land and cancellation of debts (see Lev 25). Which sounds wonderful, unless you’re the creditor, one of the ‘haves.’ The Nazareth synagogue congregation understood and rejected Jesus.
God’s anointed today, the Church, is sent to the poor and the oppressed with a special task highlighted in six infinitive verbs, beginning, ‘to bring good news to the oppressed,’ and ending, ‘to provide for those who mourn.’ If ever we need to do this, today is the day. Walter Brueggemann in his commentary on Isaiah 40-66, writes, “All of these actions are powerful ministries to the weak, the powerless, and the marginalized to restore them to full function in a community of well-being and joy” (1998, p. 213). This is the good news (think gospel) Jesus came to proclaim and enact and has anointed his Church (you and I) to continue. This is the vision we can plan and prayer for after covid-19.
The provision to be given to the poor is seen in the three contrasts (note the word ‘instead’)—a garland (a celebratory ornament) instead of ashes (associated with mourning and death); the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. The recipients of this good news, the poor and oppressed, ‘will be called oaks of righteousness,’ a symbol of “sturdiness, durability, and resilience” (Brueggemann, 1998, p. 215). And they will restore the nation that has been devastated. So long as the haves step aside and let them.
What caught your attention in Isaiah’s words? How can you proclaim this good news and ensure that it begins to take root in your community today?
Respond to Jesus
Lord, you have anointed us to continue your work of restoring the world so that the have-nots receive justice; so that those who mourn receive joy. May we make way for your oaks of righteousness to rebuild the world into a more just society, one that truly is good news because it sets captives free. Amen.
A Final Word
This is the last of the devotions on unprecedented prayers for unprecedented times. As I mentioned in my introductory article , today’s times may be unprecedented for some of us, but in world history they mark just another major devastation among many. You may also have noticed that the prayers I chose to call unprecedented are not as unparalleled as we might think. The people of God have been praying them for millennia. It’s only been in recent years that most Christians have ignored the many prayers of lament in our Scripture. It’s my hope and prayer that you have come to see their importance and that you will continue to practice lament when lament is necessary.
If these devotions have been helpful to you in some way and you’d like to express your appreciation in a tangible form, I encourage you to make a donation to your local food bank or food-insecure family because of the effects of covid-19. Thank you for reading these unprecedented prayers with me. Stay well and stay in peace.
If you would like to keep reading the Bible, my book of 100 daily devotions in the Gospel of Mark is available. Journey to Jesus with Mark’s Gospel as Guide can be purchased at: https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/jacqueline-smallbones/journey-to-jesus/paperback/product-1qkzqyrq.html or at online bookstores. If you live in Orange City, I have copies available at $12.50. Please contact me and we can make arrangements to get you a copy. Unfortunately, I’m not able to mail copies at this stage.