This our final week together in Isaiah as we approach Easter, I've chosen Isaiah 61 because it is one of the ultimate Messianic texts. Read by Jesus in the synagogue at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:14ff), this is one of the most potent examples of how Messianic texts operate to speak both of the current situation and the future.
The current situation that readers of Isaiah would immediately identify with is exile in Babylon. They would read "free the captives" and truly identify with the release of slaves, because they were slaves, captives in exile, who were free to go home to Israel and rebuild.
The future situation would be that even though they rebuilt the city of Jerusalem, people remained in spiritual, then eventually physical captivity in their own land -- Rome conquered -- and Jesus comes to set the captives free. The twist is that Jesus may also be talking about more than physical captivity but also spiritual captivity. I believe there is a literalness to these words in both Isaiah and Luke, and there is a spiritual aspect in both Isaiah and Luke. There is a current aspect in Isaiah and Luke, and there is also a future in both contexts.
In verse 3 there is a Hebrew wordplay that we won't see in English. "I will give them a crown to replace their ashes." In Hebrew equivalent using English letters to pronounce, crown is pe'er. Ashes is 'eper in this context. Placing ashes on your head in the ancient world was a sign of mourning. I don't know how much they put on. Some people at the beginning of Lent received the sign of the cross using ashes. Though we are not a liturgical church that has an Ash Wednesday service, I placed ashes on my wife's and son's foreheads and Jacob put ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday. We remembered that we came from dust, and to dust we will return. The play on words in verse 3 is that these ashes of mourning and despair for sin, suffering and grief in this world will be replaced with a crown of joy.
Pray this passage. It is what Jesus chose as his first recorded text to read in the synagogue at the beginning of his ministry as described in Luke 4:14ff. We can pray passages by asking questions. Will you release captives again? Will you release me from my captivity to evil thoughts? Thank you for releasing me from captivity! Would you release others (specific or general) from their (specific or general) captivity? Yahweh, you have and always will release captives! Do it again!!
I haven't done very well at fasting during lent. I've fasted some in the past and enjoyed the benefits of it. Stress over a few things has led me back to some patterns of life-time struggle with stress eating that I repent of, and I ask you to pray for me. I committed with my son to not eat beef and chicken, but both of us have not kept this strictly, just looked for other sources of protein. I have committed also with my daughter to not eat "sweets" but last night I ate some ice cream and have had sweets at other times. It's very difficult to completely fast from something, much less fast from all food. Fasting is not easy. But fasting has great rewards of focusing our minds and hearts on Yahweh, on centering our lives not on daily bread but on the bread of life.
For many of us, debt remains one of the biggest barriers we have to freely giving.