By The Rev. Dr. Julie Faith Parker,
Associate Professor of Biblical Studies
This morning in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, we read Canticle 11. The prophecy of Isaiah lingered in my mind after our lips had said together, “Violence will no more be heard in your land, ruin or destruction within your borders . . . You will call your walls, Salvation, and all your portals, Praise.”
This same day on the front page of The New York Times was a picture of the President and Congressional leaders arguing about building a border wall. I was struck, once again, by the moving power of ancient Scripture and its ability to speak to our modern lives with relevance, passion, and purpose. What a blessing it would be to have no violence in the land . . . and walls that herald salvation—not destruction, derision, or division.
Pondering this Scripture from Isaiah, I think of our own country’s border at this time in our nation’s history. A large caravan of people has fled violence and ruin to make the arduous journey toward the United States. Like the Israelites departing from Egypt, their exodus has been fueled by desperation and hope. I am especially moved by the images of children who have trekked hundreds of miles by foot seeking safety or salvation (the same word in Greek). Their stories remind me of children in Scripture who must flee from where they live to order to stay alive.
In the Bible, political and personal powers far beyond their control force three small children to leave their homes. In Genesis 21, Ishmael, the first child born in Israel’s historical memory, is expelled from his home and into the wilderness, with little provision. In Exodus 1-2, we read about baby Moses. Pharaoh fears the rising number of Israelite slaves may pose a political threat, so orders all the newborn boy children killed. The writer of Matthew’s Gospel tells a similar story, showing Jesus as the new Moses. In Matthew 2, Herod, not Pharaoh, is the villain who orders the murder of infants. Like Pharaoh, Herod fears a threat to his power may arise from a child of another nationality; he orders all the children under two years old killed. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph become refugees. As with Ishmael and Moses, the only way for the infant savior to survive is to seek safety away from home. The place where a child should be secure and protected has become filled with deadly danger.
With words heralding a vision of a land without violence and walls that are only of salvation, Isaiah stirs our souls with an encouraging and hopeful vision. May sacred Scripture help us to see our Bible heroes in the faces of displaced children—and may we have courage enough to care.