Hmmm....sorry about this! I had this drafted and ready to go last week and just never hit the "post " button. I guess this becomes a retrospective, a review of one of last weeks readings.
For January 8, 2017
Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Acts 10:34-43, Matt 3:13-17
I hit him hard with the flat part of the big metal file I had in hand. He grunted, dropped his eyes, and I finally had the control to do want I wanted to do.
True story, but it sounds awful doesn't it? It certainly doesn't sound like I am a gentle person. I hit him hard...but I am gentle.
So here's the context. I was trimming my horse's hooves. It doesn't hurt the horse-it's like trimming your fingernails. It is very hard work for me. (Imagine doing a squat, holding a horse's leg between your own, then using a huge clipper and file to shape big, hard nails!) On this particular day, my horse was impatient. He kept trying to pull his leg away, sometimes lifting me right off the ground. When that didn't work, he'd lean on me. NOT GOOD! I told him to quit. He ignored me. Finally, I dropped his back leg, wound up and hit him hard across the flank with the flat of the large metal file. It made a huge smacking sound. He knew he deserved it, he didn't jump or get scared, just grunted. After that, he stood perfectly and I never had a problem trimming him again, He let me take control and neither of us got hurt. (Horses kick each other all the time to establish dominance. My hitting him like that was language he understood.)
I tell this story because it helps me understand Isaiah 42. When I read that the servant of God; "will not cry or lift up his voice...a bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice..." This sounds incredibly gentle, even "touchy-feely". It clashes with the next bit that says; "he will faithfully bring forth justice."
Contradiction? How can such a gentle, caring soul deal with the cruel rulers who are causing the injustice? How is he going to release the prisoners and bring justice to the nations? Is he going to love, pet, and cuddle and appeal to their good senses? Verse 4 says; "he will not faint of be crushed until he has established justice..."
Well, if I had loved, petted, and cuddled my horse at the point he was misbehaving, I may have fainted from the effort and been crushed under his weight. He never would have gotten the trim he needed...maybe causing lameness for him, and he may have become dangerous to me and others who handled him in the future.
There are contradictions and contrasts in this Isaiah piece. The servant that God provides is not a wimpy pushover, he is love incarnate. He is tough love. He will be different than the human powers because he will not crush the weaker ones like they do and he will firmly challenge them. He will somehow bring about justice and straighten things out without creating more victims. This will be hard, there is a threat that he might be crushed or faint from effort---he will have to be incredibly tough to do things differently. And his followers have to start looking for a different kind of "reign of justice". I'm not sure we truly have a good idea of what this kind of "just" ruler would look like. How can a ruler be in control if they are good to the powerless? How will they ever gain control over the unjust who are violent and forceful? Perhaps the answer lies in the response of the followers. How will we respond when God's servant uses some tough love on us? For those of us with lots to eat, good shelter, and money and time, following means sharing more than we have in the past. How will we respond to God's gentle, yet demanding servant?
This Isaiah passage is tough love, not wimpiness. I can't help but think of Psalm 23. We should never forget that our caring Shepherd carries a rod and staff. Those are for discipline. We can be whacked hard on the flank for our own good. It doesn't mean our Shepherd isn't gentle. It means he is concerned about our behaviour long term. We have to, for our own good and for the good of others, acquiesce to the discipline, drop our eyes, and allow God to be in control.
I've been tough and gentle training the horse I have right now. As our partnership continues to develop, I am able to use less and less pressure on him. He has happily accepted me as his leader and he trusts me. It's so much fun for both of us. It's a good model to help me understand my relationship to God. If I quit resisting and let God take control, what kind of partnership might develop?