Ho, Come to the waters. Come buy and eat; wine and milk and bread, good food that delights your tongue and feeds your soul. Buy without silver, without price. There’s plenty for everyone.
This image upends the status quo, not only for Isaiah’s audience, but our status quo. It challenges the economy of transaction that everyone assumes is the only way. Isaiah invites the hearer to imagine different priorities.
You can almost hear Jesus saying, “The kingdom ofm heaven is like…” Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard Jesus tell parable after parable about the kingdom of heaven. We may begin to think, “That’s all well and good for you, Jesus, but take a look around, we’re dealing with a pandemic here. This brutal disease is killing us and those we care about by the tens of thousands; the hundreds of thousands. We’re facing not only a health crisis but an economic crisis, too. There are protests in the streets and armed agents attacking our own citizens. Our country is divided along so many different lines, I can’t keep track. We’re even arguing about wearing masks, for crying out loud!”
But then we get to today’s gospel. It starts, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat, to a deserted place, by himself.” When he heard what?
When he heard that Herod murdered Jesus’ cousin, John. Herod ordered this brutal, gruesome murder as part of the entertainment at a birthday party.
No wonder Jesus wants to be alone. This is gutwrenching – horrifying. He must be filled with a whole host of emotions: shock, grief, deep deep sadness; anger, outrage, and probably, fear. What will happen to him? And his disciples. And his family? What do you do with all that emotion? He goes out on the water, alone, and heads for a deserted place. He needs time to just be with it. To feel it. And to take it to God.
Then the crowds show up. In fact, they’ve gone ahead on foot so they’re waiting for him when he gets to shore. Now this isn’t groupies and paparazzi excited to see the hottest rock star. No, these people aresuffering. They’ve come because they’re sick and they hope he will heal them.
All that emotion Jesus feels about his cousin’s murder, moves him outward in gut-wrenching compassion and it compels him to act. He spends the rest of the day healing all who come to him. He can’t help John, but he can help them. He embodies the kingdom of heaven in the midst of their suffering, his own anguish.
What signs of the kingdom of heaven, are you seeing in these troubled times? Are you looking? In Isaiah, we hear God saying, Listen. Incline your ear to me. Pay attention – so you may live!
I wonder if our own suffering stirs us to deeper compassion for others. At what point is that compassion so gut-wrenching that we are compelled to act. What gets in our way? What stops us?
I can’t help but think of John Lewis putting his own safety, his freedom, his life on the line, over and over again, in the hope of creating a better life for people in his community. Not only by marching and protesting, but by devoting his entire life in service to the country and people he loved. But he didn’t do it alone.
The story doesn’t stop with the individual. As the day draws to a close, the disciples show up. They, too have compassion for the people. Thinking they must be getting hungry, they tell Jesus to send the crowd away so they can get themselves some food. He turns it back on them, though. “You feed them.”
“But we don’t have anything. Well, not enough.”
Do you ever feel that way? Who am I? What do I have to offer? It’s not enough? Who we are, what we have to offer, is enough for God to work with; it’s plenty, it’s an abundance.
God acts through the community, through suffering, through compassion to action, using whatever we have to generously offer – it’s always enough.
How do we do community, though, when we have to be apart out of compassion for the health and safety of each other? How can we act as community for the benefit of our neighbor? These are difficult questions.
How do we embody the kingdom of heaven in the midst of suffering? How do we bear witness to it? How do we reveal it to a longing world?
Meister Eckhart once wrote:
“For not only bread
but all things necessary
for sustenance in this life
are given on loan to us
and because of others
and for others
to others through us.”
May we have eyes to see the kingdom of heaven among us.
May we have ears to hear God’s call to us.
May our deep compassion stir us to action with others, because of others, for others, to others – through us.