How are we to understand the privileging of Israel here? It seems beyond our understanding of God’s general justice. As Creator, God’s love is for all creation. To the extent that there are tribes, peoples, and nations, God loves each and all. We might say that God delights in the rich diversity of cultures, languages, and ethnicities. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “[God] created the great diversity of things so that the perfection lacking to one would be supplied by the others.”* Egypt, Ethiopia, Seba, the South Sudan, and the Crow nation serve to manifest the fullness of God!
But Isaiah writes out of his exilic context in which the people experience exile as a revocation of God’s covenant. Before the Israelites can receive the good news of return, God must reaffirm their covenant. As with children baptized in infancy and later lost to addiction or self-justification, the people of Israel seek God’s divine reestablishment of the covenant.
Here Isaiah gives voice to God’s covenant love for a singular people. “I have called you by name, you are mine.” This too reflects God’s wildness. In the divine economy, covenant love for a people serves love’s ecology for the whole. Devotionally, we can appropriate “you are mine” in personal ways. Yet we should not miss the original intent. God has elected Jacob and his descendants. Privilege? Exceptionalism? Yes and no. Isaiah later articulates God’s universal vision: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (49:6). Before God, privilege is for service. Listen, church! Heed this, nations!
*Summa Theologica I, q. 47, a. I.
What does the baptismal covenant mean to you in terms of privilege and vocation? Personally? Ecclesially? As a citizen?
Water is an important theme throughout the Bible. The authors of scripture use water as an image of transition and sometimes challenge and always tie it back to God’s renewing work. Isaiah records the divine promise that God will not abandon Israel, even if they pass through trying waters—a reference to the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians. The psalmist declares that God’s voice covers all the waters, so nothing can come against us that is beyond God’s reach. In Acts we see the connection between baptism—passing through the water—and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The emphasis is on the inclusion of the Samaritans, a group considered unclean by many but not by God. We see clearly the connection between water baptism and the Spirit in the baptism of Jesus himself.
Read Isaiah 43:1-7. Isaiah presents an image of God’s favor that is at once particular and universal. How do you experience God’s love for you as part of the body of Christ as well as for all persons?
Read Psalm 29. God’s creation, in its wildness, incorporates destruction. In the face of disaster, how do you find a way to say, “Glory”?
Read Acts 8:14-17. Our baptism is in the name of Jesus and the name of the Spirit. To what wildness does the Spirit prompt you?
Read Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. Remember your baptism and listen for God’s call out into the wildness of the world.
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