Isaiah 61: 1-4; Luke 4: 16-21
In today’s passage, the prophet Isaiah uses the word “instead” three times, reminding the Israelites who God is, especially when they are in the times between a life of gloom and a life of joy, just like we often feel the same way, “already, not yet.” We all know that instead is an adverb grammatically, but I want us to think of it as a verb—leading us to see and act differently as those who surely know that there is another, guiding us to take a different course of life as prophetic believers.
In the passage, the entire nation and people experienced “ashes, mourning, and a faint spirit.” Within context, the prophet began to preach the “triple instead” to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion; to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.
What the prophet says is, “Seemingly faint-spirited, mourning and ash-covered people come alive.” So, take heart that people plant fields and gardens. They will restore the towns. They will rebuild the city and the temple. Songs of praise begin to fill all the streets and houses on every corner, just like Psalm 42 in verses 9-11.
About five hundred years after the prophet preached this word to the Hebrew people, Jesus of Nazareth, stood in a synagogue and read from the Isaiah scroll, which is today’s other passage. Do you see God’s instead—bringing the good news instead of being poor; proclaiming liberty instead of being the captives; recovering sight instead of being blind; setting at liberty instead of being oppressed?
What else do we know about Jesus’s instead? Jesus was born in a manger instead the splendid palace. Jesus rode a donkey instead of a white horse. Jesus was a carpenter instead of a religious worker. Jesus always went away to pray instead of receiving all the praise from the crowd. Jesus always reached out to the neglected minority, even those strongly considered low and vulnerable, and punished sinners instead of hanging out with the major authorities. Jesus still calls and waits for God’s people with love and patience instead of making a judgment.
The possibilities for these transformations are embedded deep in the faith in the life that God creates in Jesus and us—the ashes of disappointment traded in for the garland of hope, the mourning over failure and weakness traded in for the oil of a glad resurrection, and the faint spirit of hate, anger, and depression traded in for the praise mantle of the god who still makes all things new today.
I want to invite us to keep using “instead” as a verb, not cliches, that leads us into action—be with the one who suffers, the one who grieves, and the one who are rejected—and be faithful and patient witness to God’s “insteads.”
Thanks be to God.