Isaiah’s Call for Justice

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow.(Isaiah 1:16b-17)

Last Saturday, we read about the call of Isaiah from chapter six. The lectionary takes a few steps backward and introduces us to the preaching of Isaiah in chapter one today. Speaking in literary terms, Isaiah starts "in medias res," in the middle (of things). The people who composed the lectionary decided to present this foray into the words of the prophet in a more chronological survey. In doing so, the lectionary is less startling; but it loses something as well. It loses Isaiah's sense of urgency. So upset with the status quo in Israel was Isaiah that he simply jumped into his condemnation of the Israelites.

In one of my various Bibles, I once decided to read the prophet with an eye to his concern for the social sins of Israel. I was amazed at how much yellow "highlighting" I ended up using in this quest. It is, without a doubt, the primary concern displayed by this particular prophet although he is not the only prophet to focus on the issue. The social sins of Israel, namely, failure to care for the widow and orphan, are enumerated time after time after time in the prophet's writings. Widows and orphans comprised the group which was without resources in Israel. In this culture, if one was connected to one's family, one was protected by what modern politicians call a "safety net." The Sinai covenant provided for the widows and orphans explicitly. However, Isaiah recognizes that some have turned their backs on them, that they have failed in this fundamental concern for the poor.

Lack of concern for the poor just doesn't have the same sting that it had in the Hebrew Scriptures. If a modern politician is found in a compromising sexual relationship, he (she) is usually hounded from office; if he proposes a cutback in services to the poor as an economic reality, he (she) is applauded. Isaiah would have had much to say to our politicians today.

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