Isaiah 55:1-9 NRSV
1 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
This passage recounts the story of the exiles living outside Judah (under Persian rule) moving back to their ancestral home. The most important word here is “exiles.” The people for whom this text would be meaningful are particularly drawn to the idea of “home.” After all, they have been uprooted over and over without a land to call “home.” Throughout the book of Isaiah, themes of justice, home and restoration often emerge.
Today’s lesson will focus on the word “everyone.”
Read the scripture out loud together. What’s happening in this passage?
The prophet writes a welcome message to all who are within earshot. “Everyone who thirsts” is invited to come, and even those without funds should come by too! Come and have wine and milk! The prophet wonders, “why do you spend your money on things you cannot eat, and your labor on things that don’t sustain you?” The prophet tells the people to listen carefully and to earth what is good and delight in it. No guilt!
An everlasting covenant will be made. Neighboring nations will be curious because the glory shall be so enticing. The prophet leaves instructions for the people: to “seek” and “call on” the Lord immediately. Those who do not do right are urged to leave those evil ways and “return” to God. God will have mercy and pardon them. How? Because God does not think like human beings. In the voice of God, the prophet reminds the people,” my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Who is invited to this feast?
Everyone. Me? Yes. You? Yes. Even so and so? Yes. Everyone has to eat. Everyone is invited to come to the waters. Even if you don’t have anything to contribute. The prophet tells the people, “why spend money on that which doesn’t satisfy you?” As Dr. Patricia Tull of Louisville Presbyterian Seminary writes, “don’t take what has value and waste it on nothing. Don’t settle for what doesn’t feed; take only what is good…Isaiah 55 beckons its audience to choose to position themselves as recipients of God’s bounty, both physical and spiritual.”
How is this possible?
So much of this story resonates with us as Black Christians in 2022. After all, as Dr. Tull writes:
Those who lost their heritage to encroaching foreigners were forced to pay money even for natural resources freely found by those owning property. Not only fuel, but even water, had been commodified. This harsh reality faced by the generation of the conquered makes the offer of free water, milk, food, and wine all the more moving.
This passage is prophetic, but it also feels out-of-this-world. Where are you getting a free lunch? Each of us has been warned once or twice that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
“My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The prophet, in the voice of God, reminds us of all that these things are possible through the one who made heaven and Earth. A free lunch (and a return home) is possible through the God who can make miracles happen.
Later on in the lesson, we’ll hear a song featuring a modern psalmist who sings, “Well, who needs to go to work to hustle for another dollar. I’d rather be with you ’cause you make my heart scream and holler.” May our love be abundant, and all our needs be met. When we go to God in prayer for safe homes, food, clothing, shelter, friendship, new jobs, God never thinks we are “too much.” All of us, everybody, is worthy of food and drink. No charge.
What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?
CONNECTION TO TODAY’S WORLD
In a now-viral video, Kim Kardashian decided to slam women for having a poor work ethic. She rambled, “I have the best advice for women and business. Get your [expletive] up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days.”
TV Personality Bevy Smith replied via Twitter, “Poor people across the country have been gaslit by RICH PEOPLE into believing that the reason they aren’t rich is because they don’t work hard! People working 2,3 jobs & still need public assistance ‘get off their [expletive] every day & work’ so this is a privileged fallacy.”
The argument comes on the heels of quite palpable inflation around the globe. Due to corporate greed, inflation is at a record high. Gas, grains, and other staples cost much more, creating a ripple effect throughout the supply chain. Groceries are expensive.
If you are experiencing the pinch, the good news is that you are not alone. Sadly, that’s also the bad news. People around the world are feeling the impact of increased instability.
Journal: Are there any small businesses you have continued to support over the course of the pandemic? What goods/services do they offer? What have you noticed about their operations?
Closing: Listen to “Never Too Much,” Luther Vandross
We come to you in a chorus of voices overwhelmed by the financial strain of corporate and governmental greed. We lament that there is always money for war and never war for much else.
We want to study war no more. We want to be able to break bread with our loved ones, safely. We want to go to the grocery store without having to put items back. We thank you for your provision and grace that shows up unexpectedly every day.
God, please continue to pour out your blessings on us. We want to drink and eat without breaking the bank. You welcome all of us to the waters, even if we don’t have our part of the check.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
From Dr. Tony McNeill
From Joseph Reaves