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Isaiah 61 - Hope sprouts from the ruins

The passage begins with an announcement of divine presence and action.
While it is clear that the power and the commission are from the LORD, the "me" with whom God is present and whom God has anointed and sent is not identified. It is logical to assume it is the prophet's voice and the prophet's mission that is described. The presence of God's spirit and the work for which the "me" has been anointed, however, also draw to mind David's anointing as king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:13), the promise of a king who would heal the divisions between Israel and Judah and rule with righteousness (Isaiah 11:2-5), the release and righteousness to be carried out by God's "servant" (Isaiah 42: 1-9), and the LORD's spirit in everlasting covenant with all Israel (Isaiah 59:21). By these associations, the opening announcement underscores God's initiative in providing for and speaking to Israel in days past and in the present. The present needs that draw divine attention, as glimpsed through the commission, are daunting. God's anointed is sent to the oppressed, to the ones whose hearts are crushed, to the captives, the imprisoned and to all who mourn. Though unstated, in order to reach those persons, God's anointed must, of necessity, confront the perpetrators and sources of oppression, marginalization, hopelessness and despair. Moreover, the divine mandate is to reverse their circumstances and effect a transformation in their identity and activity. The anointed is to deliver good news to the oppressed, to wrap for healing the broken hearts, to declare liberty for the captives and an opening so the imprisoned may find release. The anointed cannot avoid vulnerability or rejection and, like others commissioned for divine service (e.g., Numbers 11:10-15; Judges 4:4-9; 1 Kings 19:1-18; Jeremiah 20:7-10), will face the temptation to be disheartened by resistance, hostilities and lack of progress.

The commission to "proclaim liberty" is language from the instructions for observing the Jubilee Year. During the Jubilee property and people held as payment for debt were returned to the families to which
they originally belonged (Leviticus 25:10). The use of the Leviticus language in Isaiah 61 is a clear indication that the liberty proclaimed is intended to be made permanent in new social and economic relationships within the community. Though the Jubilee was a rare event -- to be observed every fiftieth year -- God's anointed is sent to announce that liberation now. God's anointed is also "to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God." This is assurance that God has chosen to act with abundant "favor" and mercy towards Israel and to judge and defeat those who would harm her (cf. Isaiah 49:8). God instructs the anointed to pay particular attention to "those who mourn in Zion." Isaiah 56-66 is considered to be from the post-exilic period of Israel's history. The Persian king Cyrus had defeated the Babylonians and decreed after 539 BCE that the exiles should return to their homeland and rebuild their city and their temple. The mourning in Zion (i.e., Jerusalem) in Isaiah 61:3 is not the shock and horror of 587 BCE when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Babylonian army and the royal family, religious leaders and elite of the city were marched off to an uncertain future in Babylon. The mourning in Isaiah 61 rises out of frustration and humiliation over the failure to rebuild the city and the temple to match its former glory and the failure to reconcile the economic disparities and the religious and political factions within the city. The reality of life in Jerusalem was nothing like the expectations for a restored Jerusalem and a righteous community as proclaimed by the prophets and as envisioned by the returnees (e.g., Isaiah 60). The comfort God's anointed is instructed to provide to the despairing in Jerusalem will, however, change the way the people see themselves, the way they are regarded by others and the ways they act. Instead

42 “Here is my servant. by God's spirit and by God's blessing. Missouri. South Africa." also in 61:10). structures and infrastructures. a love of justice and a hatred of "robbery and wrongdoing" (verse 8). 2 3 He will not shout or cry out. Transforming the "former devastations" will require more than a memory of the past and a promise to build. Ps 72:1-2). like God. or raise his voice in the streets. The urgency and enormity of the building task are underscored in the description of what the comforted mourners will raise up and repair: "the former devastations. the broken-hearted. To replace their dull spirits they are given mantles of praise. prisoners. Haiti. Beyond the work of kings. Then they will accomplish what is needed and what has been too difficult: rebuilding Jerusalem as a city where righteousness and justice flourish. The granting of God’s spirit was mentioned in the first of the so-called Suffering Servant songs (Isa 42:1-4). anointed one raises them from their . homes and livelihoods in Sendai. Isa 52:13-53:12). 4 In his teaching the islands will put their hope. schools. in the splintered remains of homes. They are treated as honored guests and anointed with "the oil of gladness" (cf. Psalm 45:7). Esther 4:1) -. The servant in 42:1 was to bring justice to the nations. 1)...the devastations of many generations. in the acres of empty apartments that once housed thousands of families in the Heygate complex in South London. businesses and churches in Joplin. It will require that the people of Jerusalem adopt. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice. mourners. whom I uphold. the faint in spirit.. Japan. in the flooded farmlands and residences of Minot." Contemporary readers cannot see the devastation of ancient Jerusalem but can see "the devastations of many generations" in the world today: in the mud mountains of buried bodies. who were to protect the rights of the poor etc.g. this spirit-gifted. A new future is possible because God promises to be in "everlasting covenant with them" (verse 8) and because God has provided the appropriate work clothes: garments of salvation and robes of righteousness (verses 9-10). North Dakota. fragmented.they are given a festive headdress (NRSV "garland. in the crumbled streets and buildings of Port au Prince. who was both a model for Israel in exile. and one whose suffering brought with it the redemption of his people (esp. But two things make us pause and consider. The passage begins with someone (the prophet?) speaking of their commissioning by God.of the ashes on their heads -. The speaker in Isaiah 61 takes on the role of the servant. I will put my Spirit on him. They are to be treated as and they are to become other than the humiliated. my chosen one in whom I delight. Establishing justice was also a royal quality (e. Some of this language is familiar from earlier passages in Isaiah. and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” But as the proclamation in Isa 61:1-4 continues the ones to whom justice is brought turn out to be the oppressed.g. The city where hopelessness had taken root will. in the spaces that remain vacant in New Orleans where Hurricane Katrina wiped away people.a sign of humiliation and grief (e. A bruised reed he will not break. Initially this has all the language and marks of a royal or priestly ascent with the gift of the spirit and anointing (v. he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. dispirited and exploitative people that they currently are.. captives. sprout righteousness and praise. and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 Samuel 13:19. in mile after mile of corrugated tin dwellings in Khayelitsha township.

(Lk 6:20-23.oppressed condition to new heights of wholeness. Mt 5:2-11). they will have prosperity. The people of exile. This newly liberated and comforted group will be the ones in whom God’s glory is evident and who will rebuild what was destroyed. comfort. who slaved and worked for strangers. and the old promise of the ‘priestly kingdom and holy nation’ (Exod 19:6) will become a reality. liberty. . Luke associates these verses with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Lk 4:16-20). The upheaval inherent in God’s hopeful reign is stressed further in the section omitted from today’s reading (vv. 5-7). who struggled to make a crust. now will receive that of which they could have only dreamt. and who felt abandoned by their God. Strangers will serve them. They also remind us of the beatitudes in terms of the blessings on the poor etc. and praise.