Isaiah 43:16-21 and Philippians 3:4b-14
Old Testament and New Testament Reading for Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year C)
Scripture has a way of being impractical. That's probably because following God often feels like a wild goose chase or a series of quixotic quests. There are days when I love the ways in which scripture speaks about how God raining manna from heaven or putting a camel through the needle's eye. And there are days when it makes just want to take a nap. Sometimes those days take place within the same 24 hours.
Last night I was reading Isaiah 43 and it filled me with hope; especially verses 18-19:
Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
And I loved that image: of God creating Eden out of the wildernesses of our lives. It is a redemptive image. Then I read Paul in Philippians and it seemed like he was charging toward the oasis-to-be from another direction. He writes like a man leaving home. He is abandoning his religious superiority that comes from his ancestry and being a Pharisee. He is ditching the comfortable world that he knew to share in the suffering of Jesus and somehow find the power of his resurrection. He is charging into the desert in full belief that God would make a garden bloom there.
All of it sounds so beautiful. It makes you want to run out and risk something; to really and truly live following God.
But as I sat down to write all of this, I hear those voices in my head. You naive idiot. The desert is where people go to die. You can't cut it out there. How do you know the way in the wilderness is for you? Maybe the road will be paved with your bones.
Therein lies the tension to following God. The promise sounds beautiful but it also sounds absurd. Come on out to the wilderness! God will make a home for us there! Come out to where there is no water or food, a place known for its hardship and isolation! It's going to be great!
I guess that's why Isaiah's beautiful promise needs to be counterbalanced by Paul's language of straining. It steels us for the road ahead. Because I believe God can make a home for us in the wilderness and at the same time disbelieve it with all of my cynical heart. And maybe my cynicism comes from living in the wilderness long enough to know that God doesn't always move like lightning. Sometimes it takes an achingly long time for the road to be paved.
In the last 24 hours, I have read these passages numerous times. They are wonderful. They are insane. They fill me with hope. They mock me. They challenge me. I believe them but I pray that God will help me with my unbelief. But I guess that's par for the course with scripture.