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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Isaiah and Economic Justice 9: Blinded by Greed

Isaiah 9:8-16

The Lord sent a word against Jacob,
    and it fell on Israel;
and all the people knew it—
    Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria—
    but in pride and arrogance of heart they said:
“The bricks have fallen,
    but we will build with dressed stones;
the sycamores have been cut down,
    but we will put cedars in their place.”

So the Lord raised adversaries against them,
    and stirred up their enemies,

the Arameans on the east and the Philistines on the west,
    and they devoured Israel with open mouth.
For all this his anger has not turned away;
    his hand is stretched out still.

The people did not turn to him who struck them,
    or seek the Lord of hosts.

So the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail,
    palm branch and reed in one day—

elders and dignitaries are the head,
    and prophets who teach lies are the tail;

for those who led this people led them astray,
    and those who were led by them were left in confusion.

The ninth chapter of Isaiah begins with a familiar advent passage.  It celebrates the end of oppression and the coming of a wise and just ruler.  This ruler will be born for greatness and receive titles of honor such as "Prince of Peace."  Peace, Justice, Righteousness--this is the way of God which Isaiah announced.

The second half of the chapter warns the reader not to expect this blessed revolution just yet.  Even though judgment has already begun to befall the people of Israel and Judah, the leaders and the elite have not listened.  It is just as chapter 6 said.  They will look but not understand.  Having felt the sting of judgment, the people in charge decided to "speak their blessing into existence."  Against all evidence, they said they would build fancier houses and restore their woodlands with even more luxurious trees.

As the earlier chapters of Isaiah have shown, the only way they will build fancier houses and enrich their lands is by further oppressing the poor.  They have not sought to know the Lord better and to understand what would please God.  They have not comprehended God's love for justice.  All they have thought is that they deserve to live the high life, so they will do what it takes to get back to it.

Again, the misleaders have appeared.  Elders, dignitaries, and prophets who teach lies have led the whole nation astray.  They are bringing on the judgment of God, not listening to the faithful message which calls Israel to be a nation in which all people share in the bounty of God's creation.

After the quoted text, Isaiah hits the hard part of the judgment.  It deals with the suffering inflicted on the whole people.  Some have created unjust structures and benefited from others' hardships.  The others were left with confusion.  Judah's leaders had build an unjust and corrupt system.  Such a system comes from the basest motives of selfishness, lust, and greed.  In a world designed around selfishness, lust, and greed, everyone is trying to gain an advantage and use whoever they can to fulfill their insatiable corrupt desires.

Further toward the end of the chapter it says that they devoured their own kin.  Manasseh and Ephraim fought each other, and they both turned on Judah.  Scheming, stealing, fighting, killing--the sins of oppression grow ever more evil and deadly.  Everyone pays the price, even widows and orphans who did not bring it on themselves.  Any sign of weakness gives someone else permission to crush and plunder.  That is what will happen when Assyria and Babylon get ready to pounce.

What Isaiah is describing happens in our workplaces.  It happens in our neighborhoods.  It happens on the City Planning Commission, at the country club, in the board room, at the elite restaurants.  It happens anywhere that people stop thinking of the vulnerable and start thinking of ways to leverage their connections to gain from the unsuspecting and unrepresented.

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