The Great Reversal of Fortune

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
Isaiah 35 (NRSV)
22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

1 Cor. 12 (NRSV)

The dawning of spring always feels like a great reversal.  I remember well how my dad would coax me to marvel at the first buds on the maple tree in the backyard.  He would always call my attention to the first glimpse of green on the branches.  Winter and its dreary feeling of death felt like a never-ending trajectory in Indiana, but the trees would remind us that a reversal of direction was brewing.  How we loved that first fragile bud, bearing it as a harbinger of new life to come and spring out of winter’s emptiness.  For the snowy fields would soon blossom with crocuses and the silence of ice would soon give way to the babbling of brooks.  Abundant life was sure to break forth from the winter wilderness. 

Every spring and with it Easter, is a great reminder that God loves to orchestrate the reversal of fortune.  Bring life out of death! Strengthen the weak hands![1]  Honor the dishonorable![2]  Elevate the servant! Humble the proud! Lower the powerful![3]

In Isaiah, these words are written to describe the work of God to return the exiled people to Jerusalem.  But God’s not just going to send them back.  His Spirit is preparing a place for them; a safe place, a holy place, an equal place, a just place, a merciful place—the antithesis of the land they left.  

In 1 Corinthians Paul is describing the people God has fashioned as the body of Christ.  But God has not just gathered together a people who have all said the same sinner’s prayer.  He has designed a whole new system by which this group will live: a system of grace, love, equality, and giftedness. You might say that both the land in Isaiah and the group in 1 Corinthians are best described by the word shalom—in these places there shall be deep, lasting, holistic wellbeing between people and God, people and people, and people and creation.

But in order for the land to be holy and the church to be functional, the lowly must be honored and the weak strengthened.   This reversal of fortune is quintessential to the people of God.  Shalom cannot exist when we reinforce the defunct social strata of our culture.  Shalom cannot be had when we tolerate infirmity.  Shalom cannot exist when we let fear rule us. Shalom cannot be real when some are more important than others. Shalom cannot be had when we let people suffer alone or when we let honor puff up.  Shalom cannot be real when we perpetuate the stagnant pattern of winter. Shalom hinges on our willingness to participate with God in his upheaval.[4]

Praise God for his continuing reversal!  Where there are desert places among us, may the Spirit bring waters.  Where there is weakness, may we together give cause for strength.  Let us set our hands ever to his work, River Street!

[1] Think about the leper of Mark 1; the man with the withered hand in Mark 3; the Gerasene Demoniac of Mark 5;  The dead girl and bleeding woman of Mark 5; or Blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10.  And that’s just a glance at Mark. 
[2] Think Zacchaeus in Luke 19, the woman caught in adultery in John 8, or the woman at the well in John 4.
[3] Consider Mary’s song in Luke 1, “. . . he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” (verses  51b-52).
[4] That’s not the only thing it hinges on, just the thing in focus right now.


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