Isaiah 11:1-10 • Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 • Romans 15:4-13 • Matthew 3:1-12
Last week's Isaiah prophecy had people beating their swords into plows, no longer harming each other nor even considering violence as an option between people. As if that weren't enough, this week's Isaiah reading features the end of predator vs. preyed upon: the lion laying down with the lamb. In this make-believe world, a child can play around snake holes without his mother fearfully grabbing him up for safer ground. Even the poor have little to fear, as the leader of this this imaginary future leans towards equity for all. The psalm picks up on the same theme, praying that the king would defend the cause of the poor and deliver the needy.
Poverty ruled in the mountains of southern rural Appalachia, where my husband's family is from. Not only were they poor, but there were snakes. Everywhere, it seems. His grandmother specialized in snake defense. Every day, she took a broom and swept the area around the cabin, maintaining a snake-free zone of hard clay completely surrounding their home. While she could keep the snakes away, though, there was little she could do about the poverty. As she watched the men in her family leave for the coal mines every day, I'm guessing she was always left wondering not only if they would be back for dinner, but also what she would cook, besides potatoes and beans.
Coal mining is famous for its inequities, and the wealth of a few borne on the backs of many poor. But it is the same story, everywhere, that the rich continue to want to be richer. No one relaxes – everyone keeps striving for more. This is apparently less true in small communities or tribes, where everyone is accountable to each other for carrying their share of the load, and everyone shares more or less in the harvest or hunt. Even in small groups or families though, one can see the endless striving of human beings to take more than their fair share, as is commonly played out as siblings fight, first over cookies and later over their parents' estate.
Humans are in a tough spot. We can keep fighting with one another, grasping for more than our share. Or we can lean into an egalitarian world. We can select leaders interested in pursuing justice for all. And we can, within our own hearts, begin to prepare the way for such a world. It is as though each person is called to take a broom and begin sweeping from within. Sweep away all the clutter of fear, which can completely outweigh any desire to see that others, outside of one's own group, will be treated fairly. Prepare a path of peace within oneself: a well-worn path of thoughtful reflection on one's emotions, and a governance by one's own most mature self.
Morning: What am I anxious about, or afraid of, today? How can I calm down?
Evening: When did I manage myself maturely? Connect with others openly and fairly?