Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen; because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying God’s glorious presence…The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: “It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” says the Lord of hosts. (from Isaiah 3:8-15)
In today’s reading, the oracle from Isaiah of Jerusalem reiterates the connection between the equitable treatment for the poor (or lack thereof) and the faithfulness of the covenant people to the terms of the covenant given to them by God. As the Israelites made their way from slavery in Egypt toward the Land of Promise, they received the gift of the Law. While the Law spelled out in detail the various sacrificial rites, holy days and the like, it was not simply a customary for worship. The Law also contained provisions for the care of the poor and the stranger.
Time and time again in the Law, the Israelites are enjoined to remember their treatment as poor slaves in Egypt. They are commanded to remember what it felt like to be an “alien” — a stranger in a strange land. This collective memory is to be employed in real time to facilitate a society that is both hospitable to the stranger and merciful to the poor. Through these concrete actions, the people would give witness to the covenant that existed between Israel and God.
Isaiah of Jerusalem is apalled at the lack of attention given to the poor by the leaders of his nation. As he walks the city streets, he can see the results of a nation that has forgotten its covenant with God. He cries out, “O my people, your leaders mislead you, and confuse the course of your paths.”
In this first week of Advent, with its focus on the Second Coming of Christ, we could easily begin to believe that ” The Judgment” is out there in the far-away-future. We could fall prey to either dismissing “The Judgment” as an overly-imaginative mythology that has no place in rational thought, or overly-indvidualize it by believing that it is some sort of divine hazing ritual to determine whether or not we get through the “Pearly Gates”. Just as the Kingdom of God is already here but has not yet arrived in its fullness, judgment is right here, right now as well. The cries of the poor and the mistreatment of strangers in our midst are witnesses against us — by their very presence we are judged. How are we participating in crushing them? How are we complicit in “grinding their faces”?
One of my favorite theologians has this to say regarding the connection between Christ’s judgment and the unheard cries of the poor and disenfranchised:
“Injustice cries out to high heaven. The victims of injustice never hold their peace. The perpetrators of injustice find no rest. That is why the thirst for righteousness and justice can never be repressed. It keeps alive the remembrances of suffering and makes people wait for a tribunal which will make right prevail. For many people, the longing for God is alive in this thrist for righteousness and justice.” (Jurgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, p. 334)
The Kingdom of God will come in its own good time. To be sure, we cannot build God’s Kingdom with human hands. What we can do is give witness to the seed of the Kingdom that is present within each of us through our faithful care for those at the margins in the here and now. Without such care, without such hospitality, our talk of the Kingdom becomes little more than religious gibberish.