One of the most gracious images of God in the book of the Prophet Isaiah is that of a vendor in a busy marketplace. I don’t know if you have ever been to the Victoria Market on a Saturday morning, but if you have you will know just how hectic and busy it is with vendors calling out their prices trying to entice customers to their stall and to buy from them not their neighbour who is crying out just as loudly. The difference in Isaiah’s passage is that his vendor is not selling but giving his wares away free of charge. Sometimes, however, when something is being given away free, we get suspicious and wonder what the catch is.
In fact there is a catch, because this vendor wants to wean us off a lifestyle that harms us, a self-focused lifestyle, challenging us to reconsider our priorities. He asks the question, ‘Why do you spend your money on junk food, on something that will not nourish you?’ We so easily get caught up in pursuits that fail to satisfy us because they tend to focus on us rather than engaging us in relationships. Our consumer culture demands that we buy more and more and fill our lives us with stuff, when what is far more satisfying are those things that money can’t buy, trust, loyalty, friendship, love.
This morning I turned on the TV as I had my breakfast and watched the SBS News. It was all in Italian so I couldn’t understand a lot of it, but the pictures spoke volumes. There were elderly people trying to leave Ukraine in obvious distress, carrying one or two plastic bags, the few possessions they could carry, including food. It seems that everything they had worked for over the years had been destroyed, but some at least had family members around, caring for them, and that was the most powerful sign of hope – they had each other. Others however had lost even that, and their tears conveyed the deep sadness and grief that this war has caused.
While events like these are always tragic, sometimes some good can come out of them forcing us to review our priorities and make changes to what and who we put our energies and resources into. The passage we read this Sunday from Isaiah was originally addressed to a people taken forcibly through war into captivity by their neighbouring country. For them life was hard and uncertain. Isaiah invites his people to foster those practices and habits of faith that will hold them in times of uncertainty, and not get sucked into the vortex of despair on the one hand or filling our lives with empty material possessions on the other. The season of Lent has always been an opportunity for us to reassess our priorities and focus again on what truly sustains us.
Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.