Making the nation great again?


Prisoners exercising in the Yard – Vincent Van Gogh

Might Vincent Van Gogh’s painting of the Prisoners Exercising have been inspired by conflicting biblical texts, like the ones read in many churches two Sundays ago?

The reading from the Book of Nehemiah tells the story of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.

In the absence of leadership, the people’s confidence – their sense of national destiny – has been shaken. The citizens have intermarried. They’ve welcomed and married foreigners. Now Jerusalem’s exiled leaders have returned to restore the nation’s religious identity, to rebuild a nation that has lost its way. Ezra, the priest, and Nehemiah, the governor, are rallying the people to make the nation great again.

Sound familiar?

Jesus, Ezra, and Nehemiah shared a common faith. They were children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their lives were rooted in Torah. Each interpreted Scripture in his own time, according to his own lights. Ezra and Nehemiah re-built the wall. Jesus doesn’t like walls.

Jesus returns to his home town synagogue in Nazareth. He opens the scroll to the Book of Isaiah, and selects the reading announcing good news to the poor, release to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed.

There is nothing about building walls. Nothing about isolation. Nothing about privilege. Nothing about rebuilding the nation. Nothing about the nation at all. Nothing about building the walls of a self-imposed penitentiary.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. – Luke 4: 16-18

No more prison. No more wall. No more other! Every Other is a BrOther. Otherwise, we’re all exercising in the prison yard.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Jan. 31, 2016

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