24 September 2020

"The mere sound of his name will signal hope"

It's fall, which means my Bible reading calendar has passed Malachi and is into Matthew. On a day dominated by stressful political news, here are some verses from Eugene Peterson's The Message that brought me up short. Matthew is linking Jesus with Isaiah:
Look well at my handpicked servant;
    I love him so much, take such delight in him.
I’ve placed my Spirit on him;
    he’ll decree justice to the nations.
But he won’t yell, won’t raise his voice;
    there’ll be no commotion in the streets.
He won’t walk over anyone’s feelings,
    won’t push you into a corner.
Before you know it, his justice will triumph;
   the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even
   among far-off unbelievers. [context; Isaiah's context.]
I know perfectly well that Peterson sometimes tends to puff his own wind into Scripture's sails, but this is a cool breeze that I need right now ... to know that the mere sound of the Name will signal hope, even among far-off unbelievers.

How do these verses -- particularly the name of Jesus, the handpicked Servant -- give me hope?

First of all, his messianic job description includes justice, and Isaiah promises that this justice will triumph. All of us Quakers who yearn for justice are part of the Jesus story. To the extent that we are persistent in working for justice in his name, that name will signal hope. The fact that there are Christians who seem indifferent to justice as we understand it shouldn't discourage us.

Secondly, this handpicked servant will neither bully nor coerce. Anyone whose idea of Christian service (for justice or for anything else) is to play the big shot is not -- emphatically not -- signaling hope to far-off unbelievers. With humility but great confidence, we ought to challenge anyone who damages the credibility of the Good News with their arrogance. I will not name names; I trust you recognize them when you see them. In the meantime -- good news! -- we're under no obligation to imitate their tactics.

Finally, I had a sobering thought about times and seasons. The USA is on a historic cliff-edge. On one side of us is the mountain we've been trying to climb for generations toward the summit of justice. On the other side is a plunge back into authoritarianism and class privilege. The outcome at the moment is completely unclear to me.

This uncertainty is incredibly stressful. I know people who are asking whether now is the time to begin planning emigration to some country that is on a less self-destructive path. Maybe I'm somewhere beyond naïve, but even as I work to keep us away from the edge, I also know I will keep hoping whatever the outcome.

Cover of The Long Road of Russian
(Tatiana Pavlova, editor)
Here's the thing: monarchs and potentates have been the rule for most of human history. The Jesus story began under a form of monarchy; most Christians have not known any other sort of system. The Friends Church arose during a cycle of struggle between rulers and Parliament, and gained experience lobbying and petitioning both of them. One example -- a group of 167 Quakers who petitioned Parliament to be allowed to take the place of Quakers in prison, to give the prisoners respite -- so impressed a historian in the Soviet Academy of Sciences that this historian, Tatiana Pavlova, made contact with Friends in the UK and restarted the Quaker movement in Russia. (I summarized Tatiana's story here.)

Currently the Quaker testimony of peace leads to our support for conscientious objection counseling in Russia. The voice of hope reached an about-to-be conscript in time for a counselor to intervene and prevent his forced conscription. (Here's that story.)

In the whole sweep of history, these counter-examples to passivity in the face of authoritarianism may seem minor, but they're evidence of hope persisting. You probably have great stories of your own. Even if the USA drifts down the path already pursued by other leaders whom Trump admires, it's our task to personify the promise of justice in the name of Jesus, and to pass that promise on, in season and out of season.

As for the Christians who seem to show indifference to marginalized people, and affection for brute authority, they too are part of our mission field. And at the very least, we know better than to leave them unchallenged as they functionally leach away the hope and credibility of the Good News. 

"Revolutionaries are always in the wrong .... Conservatives are always wrong, too...." Stephen Freeman gets acquainted with Vladimir Lossky.

Completing -- or not completing -- the 2020 Census in Chicago's South Side.

This week's Navalny update.

A question: Does it occur to European Americans, proud of their "good genes" and tough ancestors, that African Americans from Somalia (for example) might also be proud for exactly the same reasons?

Daniel Hunter on the ten things we need to know to head off a coup.

Three of my earliest blues heroes. I saw Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in live concerts three or four times, including once in the dining hall of Carleton University in Ottawa; but I was never able to hear the great Otis Spann live.

No comments: