MLK Day: What Are We Looking For?

Epiphany 2A
January 19, 2014

Isaiah 49:1-7

Psalm 40

John 1:29-42

Waiting“I am waiting for the Second Coming
and I am waiting
for a religious revival
to sweep thru the state of Arizona
and I am waiting
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored
and I am waiting
for them to prove
that God is really American”
– Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “I Am Waiting” (1958)

Exercise Amalgam DartIn the Gospel reading this week from the book of John, Jesus asks the first two Disciples who follow him, “What are you looking for?”  The Greek word for “what” (tis) is actually fairly vague – it could also mean who or which.  The question is answered further into the reading, after Andrew (one of the two Disciples) goes to his brother Simon Peter and says “We have found the Messiah” (John adds “which is translated Anointed”) (John 1:41).  Overall, we are left with a sense that the first two Disciples really weren’t sure what they were looking for, but they felt they would know it when they saw it.

Here at the beginning of the 21st Century, we’re all still looking for something, or someone, who will save us.  We’re not sure what (or who) that is, but it’s important, and we’ll know it when we see it.

AnointingThe word “Messiah” comes from the Hebrew ha maschiach, which means “the anointed”.  In the Hebrew Blble, all kings of Israel were referred to as “God’s anointed,” because in order to be named as king, the individual in question had to be anointed with oil by a priest who had seen a sign that this person was appointed by God.  Several people in the Hebrew Bible were designated as ha maschiah, including Joshua and Zerubbabel (Zech 4:14) and even the pagan Cyrus of Persia (Isaiah 45:1) for his role in liberating the Israelite captives of Babylon.  So in the original Hebrew understanding, “Messiah” does not literally mean “Son of God.”  It simply means someone who has been anointed for the purpose of leading God’s people. So when the Palestinian Jews of Jesus’ day were looking for the arrival of the Messiah, they were thinking of a leader who would be anointed to lead them to liberation from bondage under the Romans.  But they were not sure exactly what (or who) that would look like.

SufferingServantThe Hebrew Bible reading for this week is second of the four “Suffering Servant” oracles from the prophet Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53).  The Suffering Servant is an enigmatic figure – we are not sure exactly who or what the prophet means by this oracle (even though later Christian theologians would take them as a foretelling of the suffering Christ).  On one hand, the oracle indicates that the servant is Israel itself: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:3), and that the nation is “one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers” (vv.7).  On the other, the oracle appears to be describing an individual person: “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.  He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away” (vv.1-2).  Whether a person or a nation, though, the Suffering Servant is designated as “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (vv.6).  We’re not sure what it is, but it’s important, and we’ll know it when we see it.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, DC

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, DC

On the weekend commemorating the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr., we would do well to ask ourselves “What are we looking for?”  In death, the Rev. Dr. King has been made (literally) into a towering, stone monolith.  The man, however, was altogether human and deeply despised by many, one of whom ultimately took his life.  For the Rev. Dr. King, leadership was much more than simply cultivating a monolithic cult of personality; it was about offering a vision (“a light to the nations”) that is desperately needed for our time:

“The stability of the large world house which is ours will involve a revolution of values to accompany the scientific and freedom revolutions engulfing the earth.  We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing’-oriented society to a ‘person’-oriented society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.  A civilization can flounder as readily in the face of moral and spiritual bankruptcy as it can through financial bankruptcy”  (Where do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?  Boston: Beacon Press, 1967.  pp. 186).

When we are looking for a Messiah, we are often looking for a monolith – someone (or something) who will save us.  We often overlook the Suffering Servant, or the humble individual offering us ideas to bring ourselves out of our present situation – ideas likely to be denigrated and violently opposed by rulers and media drunk on racism, materialism and militarism.  When we embrace each other as our primary goal, we realize (in the words of the 1978 June Jordan poem) “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”.

2 thoughts on “MLK Day: What Are We Looking For?

  1. You are forever spreading “the word,” Sister Rose, a job well done.

    Jesus’ name, Yoshua (Isaiah 49:1-7), was told to Joseph but he doesn’t fit the the prophecy of the liberator of Israel. I hope you realize Israel means “the endures” and Jesus made it very clear in Matthew 24:13 that “he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” don’t you. That chapter is a rehashing Isaiah 7:16-22 where we are told everyone who expects to be left upon earth (v 22) after the tribulation will have to have followed the example of the child of the virgin (v14-16) by eating butter {bees and ants ways of life man made into one for man representing evil} and honey {a food produced by bees which never spoils and prophetic of good} and forsaking the concept of god and devil {the 2 kings over the abhorred land of death} in order to explore both ways of life.

    However, Isaiah 52:13- ch 53, tells us his appearance was changed more than any man’s and his form {of living} more than the sons of man but his dialog in Matthew 11:7-15 he makes it clear that John’s appearance was changed more than his but there is one prophecy which describes the “form of living” of the second messiah, that’s Isaiah 63:1-7. This man is not even written as being a descendent of the historical Jews, he’s a traveling by his own strength Edomite, dressed like one who threads the wine fat, i.e., in a short garment and without foot wear, who is also alone when Jesus had 12 regular followers almost all day every day. But, we will not know who it is until we see the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1 as he suddenly enters the place of authority so he can usher in world peace (Isaiah 2:2- & 11:5-9). If you can interpret the symbolism in Genesis 49:1 & 8-12 we will know what nation he will be taking the seat of authority in order to bring this world to peace.

    That, Sister Rose, is giving the readers some idea of who or what we are looking for as written in prophecy, it is not to take away anything from your informative message.

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