Bible Explorations — Holy Troublemakers: Reflections on Isaiah 9:1–4
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. — Isaiah 9:4
One evening Dr. Anthea Butler was stopped for driving while black in her late-model luxury car. As a flashlight shone on her boyfriend’s pale face, the police officer asked, “Did you pick her up somewhere?”
The officer assumed that the car could not have been hers and that her presence next to a white male implied sex trafficking. He overlooked the Ivy League professor of color in the driver’s seat to speak to her passenger.
Speaking at the DisGrace Conference at Montreat, Butler recounted this story as an example of the indignities that often come when people of color encounter the criminal justice system. She pointedly confronted her white listeners about the need to work for racial justice, and many attendees found hope in her profound honesty. The gathering, her presentation and the words of Isaiah all moved from lament to hope, with an interlude of challenge along the way.
Holy troublemakers, like ancient prophets and modern Christian social justice advocates, often follow this pattern. They grieve over the state of the world, they challenge their listeners to take action, and they point to the hope we have that God will ultimately make things on earth look more like they do in heaven.
Isaiah begins his troublemaking by pointing out the anguish his readers know all too well. The passage moves rapidly into hope, however, as he describes how these same people will once again rejoice, as when the harvest has come. The prophet makes it clear that God is the one who moves humanity from lament to hope. God brings about glory where there was once disrepute; God breaks the rod of the oppressor; God expands the nation’s joy; God brings about surprising deliverance.
But when human conditions are lamentable, God chooses us troublemakers to bring about hope. Without holy troublemakers, all too often anguish wins out and any confidence is unfounded.
On Criminal Justice Sunday, it is helpful to consider who now is overwhelmed by distress because of what appears to be a hopeless system. Incidents like what happened to Dr. Butler happen all too frequently.
The lamentable state of our justice system is more pervasive than simply scattered stories, however. For example, if current trends continue, the NAACP estimates that one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. According to ProPublica, black teens aged 15 to 19 are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than are white males of the same age. People who walk in despair long to experience the hope promised in Isaiah 9:1–4.
In the middle of this anguish, God challenges us to be holy troublemakers who tear down the abuse of oppressors. It is harder to do so when we are uninformed or unaccompanied. Could you read a book like “The New Jim Crow, Between the World and Me,” or “Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race?” Could you form a small group of like-minded Jesus followers to strategize next steps together? Could you articulate to your circle, your choir or your neighborhood faithful reasons why Christians who are not directly impacted need to care about these issues?
How will you respond to God’s challenge to move the world from lament into hope?
The Rev. Dr. Charles “Chip” Hardwick, director, Theology, Formation and Evangelism, PC(USA) for Presbyterians Today
Today’s Focus: DisGrace Conference at Montreat
Let us join in prayer for:
Young Adult Volunteers, 2016-17
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Lord, you make no distinction between rich and poor, between those who give bread and those who receive it. You know that they all need you, your love, your presence. Thank you for reminding us that we are all your children. Amen.