The readings for today are latent with rich meaning. Isaiah (48:17-19) says that God will teach us the way. If we follow God’s lead we will have prosperity and vindication as evidenced by numerous offspring whose names will never be cut off from God’s presence. Prosperity and vindication deserve further explication.
In America, the thoughts triggered by the word “prosperity” usually drum up visions of affluence and material success. If we say our prayers a, go to church, and try to do good, God will bless us. God will bless us because God is always present to us; however, God’s blessings go far beyond material success:
The Hebrew root word of towb [prosperity] means to be good, beneficial, well, pleasing, pleasant, favorable, lovely, cheerful, happy, comfortable, right, fruitful. . . . Towb is one of Yahweh’s own characteristics, not just a gift that God gives. Perhaps Paul gives the best definition of towb in Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…” This is the prosperity God wants for us, and it derives from being with in intimate relationship with Him. (http://www.broomfieldumc.org/templates/System/details.asp?id=35460&PID=584207)
Shalom is another word that is used in the Old Testament to denote prosperity:
This word means “peace and well-being” in every sense: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. So shalom entails health, security, tranquility, success, safety, comfort, and welfare. It also signifies peaceful relationships, relationships among people that are marked by these characteristics. . . . So when you see “prosperity” as you read your Bible, don’t think exclusively in material terms. The prosperity God desires for you is far bigger than material wealth. It is complete health, peace, and well-being. It is the joy that results from God’s presence in your life. It is abundant life in God. (http://www.broomfieldumc.org/templates/System/details.asp?id=35460&PID=584207)
Vindication is a parallel word. “The stem attached to Tsedaqah is a verb (???), which means “to be righteous,” “to be just,” to “be in the right,” or “to be straight.” In other Biblical books outside the eighth century prophets, tsedaqah is used as “vindication”, “saving deeds”, “saving help”, “righteous help”, “salvation”, “equity”, “uprightness (http://www.directessays.com/viewpaper/16849.html)
Isaiah is promising something that goes far beyond material success. He is promising wholeness, salvation, healing, well-being, vindication, salvation. Our God is with us. Our God is making us whole. Our God is loving us into life. Our God is calling us to authentic human life in our true selves which are rooted in God’s living presence in us.
This is what Jesus is proclaiming in today’s reading from Matthew (11:16-19). This generation is a put-down term for the Pharisees and scribes who are challenging Jesus. Warren Carter (Matthew and the Margins) says that Matthew is describing a court scene in the city or town center. The religious leaders think in their self-righteousness that they are at the center and that Jesus is on the margins. It is really just the opposite in spite of their vociferous attack. They attack John because he came fasting and proclaiming repentance. When you are perfect like the religious leaders you do not need to repent. They reject John and his message. He had a demon. Self-righteous people always seem to find ways to demonize others.
Likewise, they reject Jesus and his message. They seem to be saying that Jesus is partying. The charge goes much deeper. They are saying that Jesus is “a glutton and drunkard.” Warren Carter says the phrase means “’a stubborn and rebellious son’ who does not obey his parents and should be put to death (Deut 21:18-21).
They are calling Jesus a maverick whom they need to get under control. Organized religion has little room for mavericks. Organized religion has little tolerance for people who follow the sapiential (wisdom) tradition. Dictionary.com gives these definitions for maverick:
1. Southwestern U.S. an unbranded calf, cow, or steer, esp. an unbranded calf that is separated from its mother.
|2. a lone dissenter, as an intellectual, an artist, or a politician, who takes an independent stand apart from his or her associates (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/maverick)|
Jesus is wandering away and dissenting from their hidebound religiosity. He is moving toward the center. Soon the religious leaders will be on the margins when Jesus resurrection vindicates him.
The second serious charge they level at Jesus is that he is a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Indeed, he is. He dines with them. He invites all to the table. Wealth and riches are not assurance of coming to the table. All are welcome because all are created in the image and likeness of Abba God.
Jesus has the final word. “Wisdom will be vindicated by her own actions.” Jesus identifies himself as Wisdom. (John and Paul take us farther into Jesus the Wisdom teacher, than the other New Testament authors.) Wisdom is not in their temples and synagogues. Wisdom is not in their strict religious practices. Wisdom is “found in Jesus” (Carter). Jesus is the Word who danced with Abba God before creation. Jesus is the Word, the Wisdom, the Sophia of God made manifest. Here Wisdom is exemplified by moving toward the center (= doing Abba God’s will) and welcoming all to the table.
Peace, justice, salvation, vindication, health, wholeness and peace are ours. Gifts, pure gifts from God. “I have come that you might have life and have everything you need” (Jn 10:10). What “we need” goes far beyond material success and all its accoutrements.