For God’s family, there is a familiar path to follow. It is, what Jeremiah called, the “ancient path” (Jeremiah 6:16). From the Exodus out of Egypt and the 40 year journey through the wilderness toward the Promised Land, to the return from Babylon of the dispersed remnant who came back to rebuild Jerusalem, to those who are called from sin-sickness to health by the Lord Jesus, this familiar path appears. In our readings for today, we discover the way out of the wilderness and exile requires us to give up the old way and follow the One who is the Way! This transformation changes the way we live with and love others. Read on…
Read Isaiah 58:9b-14 – Are We There Yet? Not Quite!
Isaiah addresses those who have returned to restore the Holy City. In 586 BC, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. By 531 BC, Cyrus, the Persian King, had assumed power. His edict of repatriation allowed God’s people to go home and rebuild. But, the restoration process was not marked by cooperation and unity. Rather, those with power were oppressing those of lesser status and treating them with disdain. Isaiah declares the proper path that God intends for them to take. “Remove oppression, false accusation and malicious speech.” If they are to move forward, they must put these divisive behaviors behind them. As they put away the negative, they are to take on the positive. “Bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted.”
What is the result of this transformation? Isaiah relates many positive outcomes for adhering to God’s requirements. First, he mentions that the light will begin to shine in the darkness. Have you ever tried to drive your car without lights in the dark of night? Proceeding blindly can be terrifying and tragic! If they will stop bickering and bantering and, instead, share their provisions and care for one another, especially the most needy, then the light will shine brightly. Additionally, God will guide them, provide for them, strengthen them, and sustain them. Even if the world is a desert around them, they can be like a verdant garden, drawing from a limitless spring.
Finally, and more literally, they will find success in rebuilding on the ancient FOUNDATIONS. From the ruins will come renewal. And, their generous and loving behavior will become their lasting legacy. They will be remembered as, “The Repairer of the breach,” and “Restorer of ruined homes.” Finally, they are to honor the Sabbath – representing God’s agenda for them. And, they are to give up on their own agendas. If they will do this, God says, “I will make you ride on the heights of the earth.”
Despite the fact that the exiles had come home, their contempt for others kept them in exile! Though their journey to Jerusalem was complete, they hadn’t quite arrived!
Read Luke 5:27-32 – Will They Ever Learn?
Jesus calls Levi, who happens to be a tax collector, to “Follow Me”. Our Lord was not calling Levi out to complain or rebuke Him. Jesus was inviting this outcast to be one of His disciples. Few people in that day, or this, were as reviled as tax collectors. Yet, Jesus offers him a place of honor as one of His pupils. Levi didn’t just RSVP his acceptance, he hosted a party in Jesus honor! Now, some of the Pharisees and scribes, were in attendance. Rather than being grateful for the banquet, they chose to rebuke Jesus for drinking with tax collectors and sinners. They wondered how Jesus could possibly associate with these reprobates? The behavior they exhibit sounds strangely familiar. These self-righteous elitists do not see the outcasts as their mission field, but rather as those to be derided, avoided and ostracized. Jesus’ response points them and us to the right path. “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.”
Those who should have known better, those who had achieved the highest ranks of the religious order, were going in the wrong direction. They had completed their journey to the heights of their profession, but, they also hadn’t arrived!
Read Psalms 86:1-6, 11 – Now You are Getting It!
If we desire to find the right way, to follow the path blessed of the Lord, we will need to reflect the humble confession of the Psalmist. As he calls out to God, his only claim is that he is afflicted and poor. As he cries out for God’s salvation, he does not claim any privilege or point to his credentials. Instead he declares his devotion to and trust in God. The Psalmist does not sneer at others and ridicule them for being “less than”. Rather, he cries out continually, “Have mercy on me, O Lord.” The psalmist realizes that true joy does not come from our seminary degrees, our status, or our position. God’s forgiveness and kindness are for EVERYONE who calls on Him.
As we reflect on the path we are on, what preconceptions or prejudices do we need to put away? Do we exhibit pride and see ourselves as worthy while we believe others are wanting? Realize that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He came to heal the sick not those who are convinced they are healthy. That means he came for all of us, for, all of us are sin sick! If we recognize our lives are in ruins, and that all of us need to be rebuilt on the foundation, who is Jesus, then we are starting to get it! If we truly believe that God loves and desires to save all people, not just those who look like we do, act like we do, or even believe like we do, then we are finally coming, out of the wilderness, out of exile, out of our own sickness, and we are travelling on the right path – the ancient path. What’s more, one day, walking in the way of Truth and Light, we will most assuredly arrive.