Following up on Julie’s post on Sufiyah, I have been thinking a lot about crookedness. At the hospital here we see many curved bones and crooked feet, especially since clubfoot is one of the conditions that our doctors specialize in. When these problems are corrected, when that which was crooked is made straight, it is an amazing thing to witness, and it brings to my mind this passage in Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.” (Isa. 40:3-4 NIV)
For me, there are at least two levels of meaning in these verses. First, it is drawing on the ancient tradition of preparing the way for the arrival of the King. Second, it is an unmistakable call for justice, redemption and healing.
In order for the King to come, the road must be prepared. It must be made straight and smooth. This is not only to give honor and respect to the King, but also a result of the King’s coming. The King works with those who prepare the way, and together they make the crooked path straight. It is a partnership between God and man, for in the context of these verses, the King is none other than the coming Messiah who by his very arrival causes all wrongs to be righted. But it does not happen automatically, the righteous Kingdom of God is something that we must work towards.
The arrival of the Messiah signifies the coming of redemption, and the language in these verses makes it clear that redemption means justice. Those on high will be brought down, and the lowly will be raised up. Everyone will be put on an equal level. We see this in other verses as well, for example, in Isaiah 26:5-6 (NIV):
“He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust. Feet trample it down – the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor.”
This sort of language is not limited to scripture. It is no coincidence, for example, that during the English Revolution, the faction that wanted to do away with aristocracy and monarchy was called the Levellers. Their focus was on justice and equality. But redemption does not mean justice alone, it also signals the arrival of healing. That which was broken is made whole. So many like Sufiyah suffer injustice because of their handicap, especially in a culture where handicap is seen as a curse from God, or as a result of sinful behavior. So when people with these conditions experience healing, it is more than just a physical healing. It is a societal and spiritual transformation that affects them and their communities.
Isaiah 40:3-4 is also the passage quoted in the beginning of the Book of Mark, announcing the arrival of Jesus. Mark is explicitly drawing on both levels of meaning (which in his context would have been clear), and assigns to Jesus the role of King and Messiah, as well as redeemer, the harbinger of justice and healing. It just so happens that I wrote a poem on this section of Mark, while doing a study on the Mark with a group of friends. So here, for your reading pleasure, is a lyrical response to Mark 1:1-13:
No context at all, just spitting out words,
But the text comes alive and demands to be heard.
Foretold by the prophets and the speakers of old,
The coming of one who would shatter the mold.
The dry heat and dust could never stop what has begun,
Once the message has sprung from the lung to the tongue.
The voice with no name, sent to proclaim:
“Make way for repentance of your sins and your blame.
There is one coming who is the sun to my candle,
I’m not even worthy to touch the strap of his sandal.
I came to clean and wash the external,
But he has the spirit that can cleanse the eternal.”
One day he shows up without practice or rehearsal,
And flips the world upside down with a role reversal.
Split the sky with a dove and a voice without a face,
That calls to his son and offers an embrace.
“My son, my son, there is no time to waste,
You must run to the wilderness now, make haste.
Taste the temptation, let it linger on your lips,
Hear the devil’s suggestions, but heed the angel’s tips.”