The man of constant sorrows, the suffering servant of Isaiah, is never identified. He is alluded to as like Moses, like Ezekiel, but more. We Christians know the suffering servant as Jesus. But the text does not say this. The text never names the person.
By not naming the person, we Christians not only can use the text as a prophecy about Jesus… but also read the text as speaking about all the people who are outcasts. For you see, Jesus says what we do to the least we have done to him.
The person in Isaiah is described as unwelcome in society. He or she isn’t pretty. They are dirty. They have sores. Even though he or she does nothing wrong, we don’t like them.
So we abuse the individual. We turn our faces from him or her so we can’t see them. We ignore them. We pretend they are dead. We throw them out of our community.
… Who is not pretty? Who is dirty or has sores? Who, just by their very presence, gets us irritated and we pretend not to see them?
Did you know when famous people visit an area, police usually go ahead of them a day or two ahead of time and clean out ‘the undesirables.’ You know — panhandlers, homeless, the mentally ill, and the poor? People who we want to pretend we don’t see. People who just their presence is offensive.
Have you heard bad comments about people who are on food stamps, WIC, or social security? Do you turn your eyes away from the the beggar so you don’t ‘see’ him?
Isaiah goes on to say that these vulnerable people then get beat.
And they do.
Violence against the homeless, the mentally ill, the poor is so much higher than violence against other groups. Abusive parents raise children who only know how to be abusive. Poverty makes thieves. Mental illness makes a person homeless as they turn away all help and burn bridges in their episodes.
The police get involved in Isiah.
As they do now a days too. And when the police show up, they are much more likely to say the homeless, the poor, or the mentally ill brought about the beating on themselves than they are to say the more affluent, cleaner, more respectable person did wrong. Who are you going to believe? The soccer mom or the homeless wino?
We don’t mean to, but assumptions of character based on how people appear slip into all our judgments. Police are people too, and so although the try to be neutral… they, too, slip into assumptions. I am not siding against police. I am the granddaughter and niece of officers. I am saying police are human and humans make assumptions.
Assumptions are what the #blacklivesmatter movement is about. Assumptions are what feminism is about. Assumptions are what movements like these are trying to combat. The normal person assumes all people are treated equally and get the treatment they deserve… but that simply is not true.
In Isaiah, the servant is sent to trial and justice is perverted. Justice isn’t done. We founded out nation as a nation with liberty and justice for all — yet we have more people incarcerated than any other country. 2.5 million! .91% of our population. So 1 for every 110 people are in prison or jail at this moment. 1/31 on parole, 1/3 have a criminal record.
If you have criminal records, are on parole, or in prison or have been in prison… it is very, very hard to get employed. To have a life. Even if you change and don’t get in trouble with the law anymore… you are cast out of society.
A stupid decision at 18 means a life of poverty, hardship and a temptation to do worse crimes waits you for the rest of your life.
Mandatory sentencing for drugs means a single marijuana cigarette at 18 can lead to 70 years in prison. Who among us made smart choices at 18?! Why is that kid who made a single bad choice spending more time in prison than a man who chose to murder or rape another?
Justice is often perverted. Messed up. Not done. Even though we all try to do justice, and to uphold our laws, and write laws to bring about justice…
… too often, justice is not done.
Seed saving is one of my personal interests. You know — collecting some seed from this year’s crops and reusing it next year. Now you know if you sign an agreement with a seed company, like Monsanto or Syngenta, you’re not allowed to save seed and plant it the next year. The company owns the seeds as a patent. This makes sense to me. They designed the seeds. They own the seeds.
What doesn’t make sense to me is that they have a patent on the genes of the seeds and own wherever those genes go.
So take the case of 75 year old Vernon Bowman. He went to the grain elevator, bought some soy, and planted his field. He didn’t know some of the seed in the grain elevator was from RoundUp Ready crops. Crops whose seed was owned by Monsanto. So after he planted his field, he was sued. He was accused of purposefully robbing Monsanto, and the courts agreed. He’s the 410th farmer Monsanto has sued.
In some of these 410 cases justice was done. But not all of them. I think Bowman wasn’t intentionally stealing. But this elderly man now has a criminal record.
In Canada, the canola is a worst deal. A few years back a RoundUp Ready crop was planted on one side of the road by one farmer, and another planted a regular crop on the other side of the road. When Monsanto came out a few years later, they found their genes were in both crops. The farmer who didn’t sign a contract was sued. He was adamant that he never planted RoundUp Ready crops. But he saves his seed and replants some year after year. The courts decided that the two crops had cross pollinated over the years and although the seed-saving farmer had done nothing wrong at all… he was ordered to burn his crop.
He then was told to start with fresh seed and to leave an open fallow area between himself and the RoundUp Ready crops if he didn’t want cross pollination to happen again.
“Shouldn’t the RoundUp Ready crops leave a fallow space so they don’t contaminate the others?”
That farmer lost crops, lost seed, and lost land.
The same pollination issues are happening in south America. Native corn crops are being burned because they have cross pollinated with GMO crops. The GMO seeds are five times more expensive than local corn. So poor people plant the local corn. But the local corn, like the corn in the grain elevator, is mixed with patented corn. Then the poor can’t afford a lawyer to defend their crops. And their crops get burned. And they are poorer than when they began. They starve if they plant seed and they starve if they don’t plant seed. And they starve because they cannot afford the GMO patent and cannot find corn that hasn’t been pollinated by GMOs.
These are the crazy kind of injustices that get me so angry. I know Monsanto, Syngenta, and other big names are doing great work and feeding more of us than ever was once possible — and I also know what kind of insane injustice is happening too.
Right now, the way our court system is set up, since genes themselves are patented and the company who owns the patent owns where the genes show up… it means a court someday may decide that our pigs who eat RoundUp ready crops belong to Monsanto. Or us — when we eat the pigs — get the genes in us and now we belong to the company. That’s ridiculous! But that’s how the law is being applied.
Neither me, nor, do I think, any of these seed companies, want this. They want their research protected. Local small farmers want to not starve. I want justice to be done. But sometimes all these desires get awful muddled when we get to court.
Justice, in courts, can get so perverted. So messed up.
I saw injustice in the courts most recently with a trial over children. Mom and dad divorced and shared custody of the kids. But mom wanted full custody. Dad said no, he wanted to share. The judge said, “Why are you trying to keep these children from their mother where they naturally belong?”
… Sexism in the court. It happens very frequently. Even if a mother is dangerous — has a drug habit, an unstable job, and many boyfriends — she is preferred over males to raise the children because the mother is where kids naturally belong.
Please — sometimes dad is the better parent!
The judge assumed the woman had to be a good mother since she was a woman while the father wasn’t a good father since he was a man.
The judges assumed the farmers who saved seeds and replanted them were trying to steal from a company. Assumed the farmers were thieves.
We all make them. God forgive us when our assumptions cause injustice and pain!
The suffering servant in Isaiah is assumed to be nothing, and he is dealt injustice, and he is murdered. People assumed Jesus was trying to start a rebellion against Rome, assumed he was speaking blasphemy when he said he was the Son of God, and he was murdered. People every day are assumed to be worthless, they are dealt with unjustly, and they get murdered.
Our jobs, as Christians, is to understand that injustice happens and will continue to happen until Christ comes again. It is our job to listen with ears that aren’t full of wax and dirt. Ears that are clean of past assumptions, clean of old hurts, clean to hear someone’s story anew.
Our job is to see Christ in the suffering servants of the world. To see someone who is poor and instead of thinking ‘what did they do to become poor’ think ‘there is Christ. Let me greet him.’
It’s our job to hear someone has done time in jail, or prison, and to treat that person as fully human. Fully worthy. Not a less-than. Not someone to bypass. You don’t know what they did. You don’t know how they’ve changed. You don’t know if they were there unjustly.
I am not arguing for you to assume everyone you meet is a saint. Oh no — there are bad people out there. Use your wisdom. I am arguing to be aware of your assumptions.
And when your assumptions lead you astray, be humble enough like the authors of Isaiah who wrote how wrong they had been. They wrote, “Who will believe us?” Who will believe the revelation that we have had ? Who will believe that the one we accounted as nothing is actually one of God’s great? Jesus told us again and again, and again in today’s reading, that those who are little… the servants, the people we overlook, the ones who the world ignores… are the ones God honors and calls great.
It isn’t human nature to NOT discriminate. It is godly nature. So we have to work at not discriminating, we have to practice.
Our Lord walks among us now. Will we greet him or tell him to beat it and get a job? Will we wash his feet and welcome him or tell him to get a hair cut and leave us alone? Will we greet him with palm fronds or handcuffs?
Our Lord walks among us. Is suffering injustices now. Will we walk with him or will we be the first to cast stones at him?
May we practice not discriminating. May we ask God for forgiveness when our assumptions hurt ourselves or others. May we always strive to be better disciples of Christ.
Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, OH, 10-18-15