Proper 28C / Ordinary 33C / Pentecost +26
November 17, 2013
In the hills of Kenya, on the edges of what was once the Karen Blixen estate (portrayed in the movie “Out of Africa”), a small enterprise was started in 1975 making beads out of the Kenyan clay, employing two local women in a pottery shed. The enterprise was named “Kazuri“, which is Swahili for “small and beautiful”. The situation of women in Kenya was (and still is) very difficult. Widows are often cheated out of their lands and thrown out of their houses by their relatives. In the advent of AIDS, many women have also been left to care for AIDS orphans (totaling 1.2 million children in 2011). 800,000 Kenyan women are themselves living with the HIV virus, and 150,000 people die every year from AIDS in Kenya (UNICEF). When women dealing with these conditions have little education, it is very difficult for them to find employment and support their families (unemployment runs anywhere from 65-90%) – and Kenya has the second highest food prices in the world, next to Pakistan.
At present, 350 women are employed by Kazuri Beads, which prioritizes the employment of single mothers and widows and pays three times the going wage in Kenya. The Kazuri workshops are equipped with a medical clinic, providing free medical care for employees and their families. Kazuri is also a member of the World Fair Trade Federation (WFTF), which promotes the payment of a living wage to workers who create products for export. The company produces 5 million “small and beautiful” beads per year, and exports to over 30 countries worldwide, including distributors over the Internet.
In the Hebrew Bible reading for this week, which comes from “Third Isaiah” (chapters 56-66), the prophet addresses the situation of a restored Jerusalem upon the return of the exiles. In the first chapter of Isaiah, the prophet makes clear that Jerusalem – among its many sins – will be punished for its treatment of the orphaned and the widowed: “Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them” (Isaiah 1:23). While the leaders of Jerusalem also abandoned YHWH for the worship of other gods, their faithlessness was borne out in their treatment of the most vulnerable members of society, who are protected by YHWH.
After exile, upon the return of the “righteous remnant” to Jerusalem, YHWH declares that the new city will be a part of an entire renewed cosmos, in which people will be able to enjoy work that is not taken from them by invaders: “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit … for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity” (65:21-23). In order for the people to enjoy the work of their hands, they must live in a kingdom that is ruled in Covenant with YHWH, where the Lord’s commandments concerning the orphans and the widows are respected. When the Covenant with YHWH is broken, war, poverty and the mistreatment of the vulnerable are the results.
The work of Kazuri, seemingly small on a global scale, mirrors the vision of Isaiah for a Jerusalem that has been re-created as a part of “new heavens and a new earth” (vv.17). When the situation of the most vulnerable of society is placed at the center of our economic institutions, Jerusalem is re-created in our world “as a joy … No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime” (vv.18-19). When we live in accordance with YWHW’s shalom, the Kingdom of God begins to break through into our world before our eyes, in ways that are “small and beautiful”.