Proper 7 • Isaiah 65:1–9 • June 20, 2010
By Travis J. Scholl
Let’s be honest. Given the wondrous epistle reading from Galatians 3 (“But now that faith has come … There is no longer Jew or Greek … But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son … So you are no longer a slave but a child … ”) and the multifaceted account of the Gerasene demoniac in Luke 8, this reading from Isaiah might take third place on the preacher’s hit list. Yet it has some striking features. Are there prophetic themes here that might resonate in the rhetorical heights of Paul and the amazing act of the Christ?
We should begin by acknowledging that, beginning in Isaiah 65, God answers the people’s cry out of the depths in 63:7–64:12. “There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity” (64:7). That’s the context. God’s answer forms the grand finale of the book of Isaiah, a finale that anticipates the entire future of God’s reign (65:17, 66:22–23).
Yet, verse 1 opens with irony. “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,” God says, “to be found by those who did not seek me.” God answers those who have been seeking him—the children of Abraham (64:16) and Moses (63:11)—by opening himself to those who do not seek him. This irony is not lost on Paul, who cites this text in Romans 10 as evidence that God has opened salvation to the Gentiles through faith in Christ (Rom 10:20). Matter of fact, there is deep resonance between this section of Romans 10—particularly vv. 10–12, 17–21—and today’s Galatians 3 pericope.
God extending an invitation beyond his chosen people is a Lukan theme as well. The opening verses of Isaiah 65 are reminiscent of the great feast parable in Luke 14:15–24: “… Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled’” (Lk 14:23). Of course, it almost goes without saying that today’s Luke 8 pericope begins with Jesus arriving “at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee” to a “hillside where a large herd of swine was feeding” (8:26, 32; cf. Is 65:4). In other words, Gentile country.
Isaiah 65:4 is significant in light of Luke 8 for another reason too. God is addressing those “who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places.” Sound like anyone else we know (cf. Lk 8:27)? Interestingly enough, most of the “abominable things” that God cites in Isaiah 65 connote pagan divination, bordering on the demonic. Again, sound familiar (cf. Lk 8:29–30)?
There is an intense law-Gospel dialectic at work in Isaiah 65, between a God who has “held out my hands all day long” (v. 2) and a people whom God “will indeed repay into their laps their iniquities” (vv. 6–7). Nevertheless, God’s loving kindness has the final word: “As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,’ so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all” (v. 8). This word of promise is for both Jew and Gentile (v. 9). And again, the text reverberates in Luke, in the parable of the fig tree (Lk 13:6–9).
In the end, Isaiah 65 goes a long way in helping us understand Jesus’ curious instructions to the healed Gerasene man. We all can identify with his impassioned plea to stay with his healer. Who wouldn’t want to soak up every second at the feet of the Christ? We can almost hear the disciples: “Please, Lord, let the man come with us. There is nothing for him here.”
But no: “Return to your home,” Jesus says, “and declare how much God has done for you” (Lk 8:39). Stay to proclaim good news to those who haven’t heard? Sure. But more importantly—as Isaiah 65 would remind us—stay because God is just as much at work in the Gerasenes as in Galilee. Sometimes even more so. “Bloom where you are planted,” the old cliché goes. Because, wherever that happens to be, as grapes become wine, “there is a blessing in it.”