While many think a prophet is someone who predicts the future, the prophets that populate our scripture come from an ancient tradition born of the Hebrew term, ‘navi’ or ‘seer.’ A prophet like Amos, Jeremiah, or Isaiah has a profound capacity to see through the pretenses of our faith practice and the harmful ways half-measures impact the orphan and widow. It would be easier for us to talk about some future, but this lection for Sunday wants us to grapple with Isaiah’s vision for Jerusalem and Judah and the ways that vision cuts through the underbrush of falsehood that is the shadow side of human worshipping community.
In a surprising turn, God is weary. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams,’ (Is. 1.11). ‘I am weary of bearing them,’ (Is.1.14). Festivals and offerings with blah blah blah instead of justice is beyond wearisome. The prophet wants us to know we will live with the consequences of the injustice we perpetuate.
The prophet calls us to an alternative consciousness that is starkly different than the culture around us. The conventional wisdom of our systems has not centered the orphan and widow: ‘learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (1.17).
Isaiah uses the imperative voice in v. 16: ‘wash yourselves!’
There is a humility in washing. We get up and move and bring our hands to the source. Early in the pandemic the counsel to wash hands was an occasion to remember our baptism and our link with the baptized, as well as the God of all creation. Water is a resource that demands our stewardship and sharing.
The water never dries on our baptism. The need to surrender to our baptism in Christ never ends. Reflection on our baptism can be formative—and reveal who we are in relationship to the vows we make. Perhaps it could be said that in the Holy Spirit, our baptism is new every moment—as new as water is—and as new as our need for washing is.
Is worship in your faith community wearying? Is your own participation wearying? How might justice come from worship or how might your faith community impact the orphan and widow? Does it matter if the orphan or widow was born in Mexico? Where are the orphans and widows in your community? How might your eyes be washed to renew your practice of faith? Come to the source and wash.
Know that I am praying for you. I look forward to sharing reflection on my early summer pilgrimage to Camino de Santiago with you.
Hee Soo Jung, PhD
Bishop, Wisconsin Conference UMC
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).