Thursday Scripture - Isaiah 61:3
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
Thursday Quote - Thomas Merton
The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
Yesterday's verses from Isaiah highlighted the gifts that God would give to Israel through the anointed one. These were powerful gifts, grace-filled gifts that reversed the fortunes of the sad and despairing and lifted them up. Today's verse follows along the same theme. In today's verse, there is a symbolic new naming, 'You shall be called oaks of righteousness.'
The gift of a new name is a common theme in the Bible. Sarai is re-named Sarah (I know its really the same name with a different spelling.) Abram is renamed Abraham, Jacob is renamed Israel, and in the New Testament, Saul is renamed Paul. The re-naming is symbolic of a new identity. While the details of each story differ, in each case, a name change symbolizes that despairing and struggling existence has come to an end and a new hopeful, fruitful existence has begun. Sarah's identity changed from barren to life-bearing, Jacobs from desperate and manipulative to passionate but trusting. Saul's identity changes from resisting to accepting the new things God is doing.
All of these themes are picked up in Israel's renaming to 'oaks of righteousness.' Israel disappointed that they have been unable to carry out the promised rebuilding of the Temple, are promised that their identity is not barren, but life-bearing. Israel is reminded to trust and to continue to work passionately toward their dreams and visions even though success is not quick or easy. And Israel is reminded to keep hoping for the new thing God is doing.
All of this connects both to the life and ministry of Jesus, who consistently and persistently bestowed new identities on those he met. Whether he was interacting with lepers, Samaritans, Romans, the poor, the sick, the 'sinful,' his words, his healing, his miraculous intervention all worked to bestow a new identity. All were named 'expendable' and 'unworthy' were renamed 'Beloved of God.' Paul picks up this theme when he writes in 2 Corinthians 5, 'If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.' The re-naming of Sarah, Jacob, Paul, Israel and even us upon our baptism is both a rescue mission to save us from fear, doubt, and despair. And, as we will see tomorrow, it also bestows upon us a new identity with a new mission, a new purpose in the world.
Thursday Explore - Genesis 32; Romans 6:1-14; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21
Thursday Pray - God whose word creates, thank you for speaking to us, calling us by name. We are grateful that you continue to reveal our identity, your Beloved, to us each new day. Continue to make us willing participants in your re-naming and renewing of us, so that we may continue to grow into your image our whole lives long.