In Isaiah 56:1-8, Isaiah offered the Israelites as well as us a vision of community that includes all groups of people, a radical new definition of who is in and who is out, a place where membership is not based on sexuality, nationality, or religious practice but rather a community that includes all who “do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow” (Isa. 1:17).
We hear words that were first heard by exiles returning from Babylon to a community that was experiencing economic hardships and lack of order, Jews who had not been important enough to be exiled but had been left to figure out how to survive in a land ruled by foreigners, and others – Jew and non-Jew – who finding themselves in an unstable country were unsure of their future as they tried to reorganize both as a religion and a society. In chapter 56, Isaiah expanded the message of hope and comfort by widening the circle of who were able to receive the hope and comfort offered by God.
An extremely controversial part of this vision, then and now, is the idea that God’s house of prayer might entertain, even accept other religions. It appears that Isaiah’s vision does not call for people to change their religion but instead, it invites them to gather under a covenant based on justice and doing what is right. This passage from Isaiah opens the doors to those who may have previously been excluded based on sexual condition (eunuchs), nationality or religious practices. “My house will be called a house of prayer for all people” (Isa. 56:7).
Perhaps the challenge of this text is to those who consider themselves to be in the “in” group based simply on their religious affiliation or their imbedded beliefs. What defines a faithful person is not his or her sexuality, nationality or religious affiliation. A faithful person is one who loves the name of the Lord and keeps God’s covenant to care for one another including those who are marginalized, those what we may consider to be the other.
This passage from Isaiah encourages us to look at how the prejudices that we might harbor causes us to exclude those who we perceive to be the other. God calls us boldly and relentlessly to embrace justice and walk in righteousness. A just and righteous response demands that we look deeply into the inner workings of our minds and hearts to identify those things that cause us to demean and dismiss others.
Isaiah’s vision invites us to celebrate with joy the delight that God takes in the great diversity of people who love the Lord and are committed to God’s justice and righteousness. As I reflect on what has been happening in our community, our country and world, how I long for that to be our vision as well.