Clcik here for the video: Married
In his book Tattoos on the Heart, Fr. Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in East L.A., tells about the night one of the gang members he serves came to him for money so he could get something to eat. He describes the young man, Willy, as “a life force of braggadocio and posturing—a thoroughly good soul—but his confidence is outsize, that of a lion wanting you to know he just swallowed a man whole.” Boyle doesn’t have any money on him, so the two of them set out in his car to the nearest ATM. They stop at a nearby convenience store and Boyle tells Willy to stay there in case they run into somebody from one of Willy’s rival gangs. Boyle doesn’t get ten feet from the car when he hears a muffled, “Hey!” from Willy inside the car. He wants the keys so he can listen to the radio. Boyle motions back to him that he should pray. When he checks back on him a few feet on, he can see that Willy has his hands together like he is praying. And when he returns to the car with a fresh twenty from the ATM he can sense an uncharacteristic sense of peace in the vehicle. “You prayed, didn’t you,” Boyle says to Willy. Still and quiet, Willy says, “yeah, I did.”
“Well, what did God say to you,” Boyle asks.
“Well, first he said, ‘Shut up and listen.’”
“So, what d’ya do?”
“C’mon, G,” he says, “What am I sposed ta do? I shut up and listened.”
As they continue to drive back to the barrio, Boyle asks, “How do you see God?”
“God,” he says, “That’s my dog right there.”
“And God?” Boyle continues, “How does God see you?”
Willy doesn’t answer at first. A tear falls down his cheek. Heart full, eyes overflowing. “God … thinks
… I’m … firme.”
To the homies that he serves, Boyle explains, firme means, “could not be one bit better.”
It’s a striking contrast between how the neighborhood, and the city, and the world sees Willy and his homies, and how God sees them. A contrast not unlike the one that lies at the heart of this word from the prophet Isaiah.
The prophetic book of Isaiah tracks through the single most important century in the history of the kingdom of Judah, and its capital city, Jerusalem. The first movement of the book announces God’s judgment upon the people and the nations for their indifference to the injustice in their midst; for the ways they have fallen away from God by failing to attend to and care for the most vulnerable among them. The instrument of that judgment comes in the form first of Assyrians from the north and then the great army of Babylon from the east laying siege upon Jerusalem. The next movement of this prophetic word arises out of the pain of exile. The city of Jerusalem has been sacked. The magnificent temple, built by Solomon as a place for God to reside, has been torn to the ground, and the people carried far away to Babylon. But the final movement of Isaiah comes when the people return. Babylon gives way to Persia, and the king of Persia agrees to allow those exiles who wish to to go back to Jerusalem, some seventy years later.
What they find there when they return is a city that is a shell of its former glory. A ruin, home to the remnant that was left behind, those too poor to have anything of value to contribute to Babylon. In exile, all the people wanted was to return to their home, to their land, to behold Zion again. But once home, they cannot help but to be overwhelmed by the sight all that has been lost. Can they rebuild the city and its temple? Should they? The prospect of it is almost too much to even consider. It’s hard to see themselves as anything other than forsaken, and the land that they called home, desolate.
It’s how the person who has somehow survived cancer feels as they look at their body, wrecked by the treatment. Or the one who comes out the other side of a divorce as they survey what’s left of their life. Or the one who quite literally weathers the storm or the fire, only to come back to an empty concrete slab where their fully furnished house once stood. It’s returning from a tour of duty to find that nothing is like it was, including yourself.
And it’s a feeling that’s compounded when you stop to consider where God is in all of it. Which is worse: to believe that God has had a hand in what’s happened, that the wreckage is somehow a form of God’s judgment, or to wonder if God just doesn’t care, has given up altogether and moved on without you?
That is who this prophetic word is for. It is for a people who, at the very least, have given up on themselves, and may not be so sure about God either- given the way things stand. To feel forsaken means to feel as though God, and maybe everyone else, has turned their back on you. And the word desolate means to stand alone. They have, to paraphrase an old song, got themselves stuck in a moment, and they can’t seem to get themselves out of it.
It is into that place that the prophet speaks, no- declares these words. He will not let the people fall into silent despair. Newton’s first law states that an object at rest will remain at rest unless it is acted upon by an external force, and the prophet refuses to rest, nor will he let the people rest in such a dismal state. And the force he brings to bear upon them is nothing less than the name that is given to them by God.
Most folks have heard the question raised by Juliet from her balcony in Romeo and Juliet, “what’s in a name?” Growing up we were taught the old playground rhyme about sticks and stones. But the opening chapters of Genesis describe a world that is spoken into creation by God. God said... and there was… and it was good. When God speaks, those words have the power to create a whole new reality. That is the image invoked by the prophet. That is what the prophet won’t be silent about. He declares what we so often forget when we get ourselves stuck in those moments where the magnitude of what’s been lost so obliterates our capacity to imagine what could ever lie ahead that we come to identify ourselves only in terms of that moment. But in God’s hands we are so much more than we may have become. In God’s hands we shine like a golden crown. From God’s mouth we are given a new name that describes not who we are, or may think ourselves to be in our worst moments, but who we are eternally in God’s eyes. Because you see while we may not be able to see much further than our own immediate circumstance, God is playing the long game. Naming the delight that God takes in us; not unlike the words that were heard as the heaven was torn in two at Jesus’ baptism. “With you I am well pleased,” sounds an awful lot like, “my delight is in her.”
And rather than standing alone in desolation, God names the land in which we find ourselves, married. It’s a name that doesn’t just change the way the people see themselves and where they live, it’s a name that changes the way we see our relationship with God.
God is not out to get us. Got has not abandoned us. God is not mad at us. That one, I think, may need to be said twice. God is not mad at us. To call the land married is to invoke the covenant God makes with his people. A covenant is a promise that God will not break. It is a commitment to live with us, yes, but also to rejoice over us. To have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.
One of the best moments in any wedding isn’t the kiss at the end, or the exchange of rings, or really any of the ceremonial things that we do. Don’t get me wrong, those are important and meaningful. But as someone who stands up there with the groom at the beginning, I think the best part is when the wedding party has made its way down the aisle and the music changes, and the bride appears at the back of the church and the groom sees her as if for the first time. The couple could have been engaged for over a year, and together much longer than that, but even so in that moment the look on the groom’s face at the sight of his bride is worth it all. And that, says the prophet, is how God sees God’s people, that is how God sees and names us even when we can’t see it for ourselves, especially then, really. Sometimes having faith is as simple as trusting that God sees so much more than we can, and trusting that in God’s eyes we are firme.