Summary: God’s house is not just for a select few. God tells those who are among his family and those who are outside of it that He still intends to add still more to His people than those already gathered; people of every nationality and race, social status and
Pentecost 13 A
Isaiah 56: 1, 6-8
A House For All Nations
As part of my daily routine, I receive and read an e-mail newsletter called Heartlight. I was struck this past week by the heartfelt confession of a brother in Christ by the name of Lynn Anderson in the July 31st issue. He was recounting a tale from earlier years in his life, one that he wasn’t all that proud of now, but one he valued for the lessons it taught him and the change of attitude that it worked in his life.
It happened while he was living in British Columbia. He had a rather interesting circle of friends. Some were Indians from a nearby reservation. Most on the Indians were on the lowest rungs of the social ladder. A few of them even battled alcoholism. Among them was a man by the name of Joe Redfox, a friendly fellow, but one who was notorious for wild bouts of public intoxication. He was someone not well respected by people like the mayor of Kelowna, who was also one of Lynn’s friends. Which was ok, as long as Lynn could keep his two friendships to himself. Trouble was, Kelowna was a small enough town that eventually he couldn’t.
He was walking down the town’s main drag one day when he spied his friend Joe Redfox coming toward him in the next block. Their eyes met, recognition was made and Joe characteristically raised his hand in greeting. But just as Lynn was raising his own, the familiar voice of his friend the mayor called out from across the street.
It’s in shame that Lynn remembers what happened next. He halted his greeting before it reached shoulder height, dropped it quick as a flash, and turned to cross the street to shake his honor’s hand. Basking in the glow of attention from the mayor He wrote off the dignity and significance of another whom he had called "friend."
It’s embarrassing for Lynn to remember now, but imagine how dehumanizing to Joe. Imagine how it must have felt.
I don’t think it’s hard for us to imagine because we’ve been there – befriended only to be dumped when our acquaintance’s circumstances changed or when their good fortune returns or when someone they conclude to be more “acceptable” arrives.
That the fear on the part of foreigners and God’s concern for them in His Word today. Israel’s circumstances were about to change. God was promising release. Their time of bondage would end. He’ll restore them, but He doesn’t want the foreigners who have joined themselves to His people, who have turned away from their false gods and embraced Him as their savior and king to think that they’ll now be forgotten, written off as after thoughts. Nor were these concerns misplaced.
Again and again God warned his people not to compromise the practice of their faith by associating with foreigners or creating alliances with other nationalities. They were to remain God’s chosen, rather “unique” people.
Nevertheless, they were God’s chosen “unique” people in order to be a “light to the Gentiles.” Just a few chapters before this Isaiah had spelled out His plan. From the 49th chapter 6 he says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." From the 14th chapter we also hear: 1The Lord will have compassion on Jacob; once again he will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land. Aliens will join them and unite with the house of Jacob. They were God’s people, separated; but with a purpose – to prepare a way by which God’s savior would be brought to the world.
Unfortunately, they often missed this. They would miss it again in the days to come. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well. The idea that Jesus, a Jew, would be talking to her – why she’s beside herself. She can’t imagine such a thing happening because, Gentiles, especially Samaritans, were despised in those days. That’s what makes the story of the Good Samaritan such a powerful one. The fact that one of the Pharisees Jesus was talking to had to admit that the Samaritan who took pity on the man beaten by the road was more of a neighbor than his fellow Jew was hard to admit, though the circumstances Jesus drew in that story left no other choice.
And I suppose some might point to the Gospel lesson today and say, “Heh, isn’t Jesus doing the same. Look at what he says to the Canaanite woman. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’” But look again. Jesus acts the way he does in the Gospel today, not to belittle her, but to encourage her to greater faith; a faith which he commends to her in the end.