A few years ago, we were visiting a new town. We got to the train station early. The train was empty. A few minutes later some youngsters got on. As we wanted to be seated facing forward, I asked them. Which way does the train go? The boy pointed to the ceiling of the car. I asked, “What do you mean?” A girl next to him chimed in, “He meant it would go forward.” The boy’s direction was less than clear, but his theology was sound. As we go forward, we go up!
When in doubt, look above. God is up there. God says: 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Down here, there is disappointment, but there is a higher reality. Down here, there are reasons to despair, but there is hope higher than the earth. God’s ways are higher than our ways. When the world makes no sense, we look up to find a higher ground.
The prophet of Isaiah 55 had his ministry at a time when the people of Israel had lost the nation to Babylon. Jerusalem and the Temple had been burnt down to ground. The leadership was taken captive. Everybody was uprooted into exile into the Babylonian empire. An empire is an oppressive system in which the subjugated people pay for the oppression they get from their imperial masters. In the empire, they are responsible for planting and harvest, but they all that they produce go to the empire as tributes. The people of Israel were in Babylon as the defeated remnant of the lost nation.
In our first lesson, the prophet begins with this word Ho! It is found in Old Norse, ho; it was a shepherd’s call. Apparently, the most difficult day for the shepherds is a rainy day. Sheep refuse to come out. Why bother to eat? In times of adversity, they want to shut themselves in.
The prophet of Isaiah 55 too had to get his people out of their difficult situation and the sense of defeat. Times are harsh, and that is no reason to stay down. We suspect that the prophet recognizes that the people would refuse to listen readily. No wonder he starts with Ho! Something like Listen! Don’t give up! Listen up!
This prophet had a mentor, Isaiah of Jerusalem, who knew how to keep on preaching to the people who won’t listen. When God called Isaiah of Jerusalem to ministry, God put into his job description these words: Say to the people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand” (Isa 6:9-10). This prophet was not meant to be understood. The prophet is doing his job if the people say, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Sometime we too may feel that we can no longer imagine a better tomorrow. 17 million children go to bed hungry every day, and many more are hungry for care. 780 million people live with thirst, and no less are thirsty for some kind of meaning in their life. The prophet is charged to call on the thirsty people and the hungry people. Come and eat; delight yourselves in rich food. The hungry are invited.
When situations are completely hopeless, and when the imminent end of the world seems to be mathematically certain, the prophet brings God’s message
God says, “55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
There is no reason to quit because of vagaries of the present. When all seems to be lost, we still have God up there. On a higher plane, God is at work.