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. —Isaiah 42:6
There has always been debate about this passage. Who exactly is it referring to? Some think it’s about Isaiah himself. Others believe it’s about the entire Jewish people, Jesus, or all of us. We will never know for sure, so what if we live as if it refers to us? (God won’t mind, I’m sure.)
Ask yourself how you might treat yourself differently if you truly believed God has called you personally, taken you by the hand, and kept you close all of your life. What decisions might you change if you thought of yourself with that much reverence? If you believe that God intends for you to be a light to the nations, would you be a different kind of neighbor? Would you live differently as a student or classmate? How might you be a different employer or employee? Would your home life change if you were committed to being a light to those with whom you share your home?
Even if Isaiah didn’t have you or me in mind when he wrote this passage 2,500 years ago, God is still calling us, taking us by the hand, and asking us to be lights in whatever corner of the world we find ourselves. Jesus often talked about light in the darkness, and he asked his followers not to hide their lights under bushel baskets. Let’s take on the mantle of responsibility, and let our light shine forth.
For Action: Go about your day today conscious that God wants you to be a light for others. Let God use you as a conduit of love, healing, and grace.
To Pray: Lord, help me let your light shine forth today.
Every year on Palm Sunday, I wonder how much of the Passion the kids in the pews should be hearing. Anyone who has listened to the entire Passion story knows it is intense and disturbing. Then again, many parents don’t think twice about letting their children see a movie that contains violence and killing or read books about the same. (I can’t judge them because I thoroughly enjoyed reading Harry Potter to my kids—and it is full of violence.) But the movies and books kids are reading are fiction, fantasy, or science-fiction, right? Many of them are, but kids are also exposed to local or world news that is filled with deeply disturbing reports. This brings me to the question, should we shield our children from what happened to Jesus? After all, kids’ eyes often zero in on the crucifixes in church. If we advertise that moment in Jesus’ life as central to our faith, shouldn’t children be exposed to the story that culminated there?
I have also found that even young kids who can’t possibly comprehend the language or follow the arc of the story tune in to the Passion reading and catch its flavor as the adults around them are moved during it. I don’t think this is a bad thing in a culture that generally avoids discomfort and distress. We should be disturbed when we hear the Passion story, and our children can learn from watching how we react to betrayal, torture, unjust sentencing, and killing. Most of Jesus’ closest companions le! the scene.
For various reasons, they simply couldn’t deal with it. Yet some—notably, the women—stayed with Jesus despite how frightening and horrific it was. Are we willing to brave the discomfort this week so that we can stay and learn from him? Are we willing to let our children learn from him?
FOR ACTION: Make a commitment to read the entire Passion account yourself this week. The one read in churches throughout the world today is Luke 22:14-23:56, but you can read any of the Gospel accounts.
TO PRAY: Lord Jesus, as we remember your final days before your crucifixion, give us the strength to stay present to those who are still suffering their own passions today.
So from that day on they planned to put him to death… Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
—John 11:52, 57
Do you ever wonder what might be different if Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. toned down his criticisms of the government and structures that supported racism? Might he have lived longer to see justice rendered more swiftly? What if Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was less strident in his calls for justice by the military leaders killing Salvadoran peasants? Maybe they wouldn’t have felt the need to kill him, and he could have brokered peace between the military and the guerrilla fighters. What if Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t so extreme in his hunger strikes and demonstrations of non-violence? Might he have escaped the attention of his assassin and lived longer to work for greater peace and justice in India?
Do you ever wonder the same about Jesus? Did he really need to rock the boat as much as he did? Couldn’t he have backed off some of his more radical critiques of the Roman ruling government, the culture of militarism and oppression, and the hypocrisy of the religious leaders so that he could have lived longer and done more good in the world? Like the prophets before him and the modern-day prophets mentioned above, Jesus knew that speaking out as forcefully as he did put his life in danger. Like all those prophets, he also refused to quit speaking the truth to power. Jesus was killed because he allowed himself to become human, and he put himself at the mercy of humans who didn’t want to hear the truth. In his faithfulness to speaking the truth, he refused to save himself from the consequences, just as King, Romero, and Gandhi chose.
FOR REFLECTION: Who are the prophets in 2022 who rock the boat in their calls for justice? How do the people in power react to them?
TO PRAY: Oh, God, let your justice roll down like the waters. May I stand with courage, supporting those who speak the truth to those in power.
The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” —John 10:31-32
Jesus just can’t win. Nothing he says or does in John’s Gospel is good enough to satisfy the “Jews.” (John’s phrase for the religious authorities of the time should not be extrapolated to all Jews throughout history.) They are bent on killing him regardless of his good works. When he tells them of his intimacy with God, they are offended. When he heals a lame man, they accuse him of breaking the laws of the Sabbath. When he feeds a crowd of thousands, they are suspicious of his motives. Most of the people in the crowds around Jesus are amazed and grateful for his good works, but the leaders find fault with his words and actions. They can’t let go of their preconceived idea of how the Messiah was supposed to speak and act, so they can’t appreciate what is right in front of them.
FOR ACTION: Be on the lookout for others who are doing good works, even if they aren’t the ones you would naturally expect to be channels of God’s grace. Thank them, show appreciation, or offer to support them.
TO PRAY: Jesus, help me see and appreciate all the good things that people do, whether they do it in your name or not.
The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” —John 8:52
This week, the Gospel readings come from a long passage in John during which Jesus is talking circles around the Jewish authorities who are looking for reasons to kill him. They get lost in the semantics when he’s trying to communicate something deeper beneath the words. The problem is, they don’t want to hear it, or they aren’t willing to do the work to understand what he is getting at. It’s easier for them to claim Jesus is possessed by a demon than to have to re-work their worldview.
We do the same today when, for example, the educational system labels a child as a problem student rather than piecing together that the child is hyper-vigilant, fidgety, inattentive, and physically aggressive because he witnesses domestic violence at home or is abused himself. His behaviors don’t necessarily mean he needs to be medicated for ADHD but point out that he has been traumatized, and his body reacts predictably. His behavior begs for evidence that he is safe and loved. Sadly, most, if not all, adults will miss the meaning behind his behavior, and he’ll get labeled with some version of disability or mental illness. Like the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ time, we often react with judgment to people whose language or behavior we don’t understand. We don’t like feeling threatened by a different worldview, so it’s easier to scapegoat the person than to sit with the unknowing of what they might really be trying to say.
FOR REFLECTION: What groups of people does society write o# as “crazy” in one way or another? Is there any person or group of people in your life whom you label, dismiss, or ignore rather than trying to understand what is underneath their words or actions? Perhaps a neighbor from another country? Someone from a different political party? A troubled teen? The homeless people who sleep in front of the library?
TO PRAY: Jesus, sometimes it is hard to understand your teachings. Help me catch the meaning beneath your words rather than rationalizing my judgments.