Bible Trivia: Isaiah has the most even, full body sun tan in the Bible. Proof: Isaiah 20:3. Yep, that is right. Isaiah walked around butt naked, and without shoes, for three years. We tend to know prophets for their prophetic words (or, just words, I suppose) but sometimes they did get people’s attention with their actions. Ezekiel also accomplished this – he laid for more than one year on his side, only to turn on his other side for another month and a half! (Ezekiel 4:4-6) But, in this week’s lectionary we focus on Isaiah’s words to the people who are fasting and praying yet not experiencing the fullness of God. And so, Isiah tells them, basically, that what they are doing is not working. As crazy as it might seem (again this is coming from the guy who walked around naked for three years), they should try something else. The idea is that they shift their focus away from themselves and towards their sisters and brothers, especially those who might be in need. This is not what the people are used to doing but it might just work.
There is an episode of This American Life (450, So Crazy It Might Just Work) featuring stories focusing on people who try things outside the box. They go for methods that are not the norm. In other words, they do things that others are not used to doing. And, they get some results.
In Act I, a cancer researcher is approached by a music composer who has an idea to treat cancer. Just like a singer can shatter glass by hitting the right pitch and notes, so can cancerous cells be shattered if hit with the proper waves. These two guys get working. The cancer researcher is frustrated with current research and so he is eager to find new methods, even if these new methods can barely provide a hint of promise. The music composer is ecstatic that his idea might just work. They set up their labs, do trials, find errors, get excited and upset. At the end, they have not found a cure for cancer but they are approaching the problem with an innovative method. They feel the standardized procedures are not working so they want to try something new, no matter how crazy it sounds.
In Act II, we meet a young guy; he is Mormon, gay and chooses not to reveal his sexuality. He finds himself crushing on another guy who eventually goes on mission to Peru. He is so in love with this guy that he gets this crazy idea to visit him, for no particular reason other than to see him, in Peru. He does, he reveals his feelings for the guy and gets rejected because the guy he has a crush on is straight. But the guy in our story says that this experience opened the door for him to begin the process of coming out. One ridiculous idea turns into a life-changing experience.
I know neither of these stories really have to do with justice or mercy which Isaiah calls out as key to reaching out to God so than when God is called, God will say “here I am.” But I like them because it shows the essence of what Isaiah tries to get to – sometimes you just have to do things differently. The people were fasting and praying, yet that is not working. They kept saying “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Isaiah basically responds (my own interpretation), “look, idiot, your fasting and praying is only for you. How about you try something else? How about you treat your workers justly? Or, make sure people have enough to eat and a place to sleep? Hey, I just met you and, this is crazy, but here’s my take on it, so try it maybe?”
My favorite story in this episode of This American Life is the introduction. It features a man who presented at a mathematical conference, without speaking a single word, an instance that proved an old theory that was held as true for a long time. Much like the crazy antics of the prophets, this man showed a group of scholars that what they have been doing for many years was wrong (at least in terms of this one particular equation). He worked for several years until he found a solution disproving a long-held assumption. In today’s reading, Isaiah does just that. He uses a few more words this time but basically tells the people that their long-held assumptions are not working. How about trying something new?