Many years ago I bought an old house which had sat empty and in ill-repair for several years. It was a fixer-upper, but having been the house my grandparents built, I had the sentimental motivation to roll up my sleeves and make it mine.
The most pressing issue was the horrible state of the basement walls.
For decades the heavy, wet, West Virginia clay pushed against them until they cracked and buckled. I looked at them with dismay and couldn’t find any hint of salvation left in them. I was certain the house would need to be jacked up and, the old walls torn down, and new walls built.
With great apprehension, I called contractors to get estimates. To my surprise, each one told me the same thing: These walls can be mended.
I watched in awe as laborers mounted heavy steel braces on the walls; but, I still couldn’t see how this was going to fix the glaring problem. The walls were on the verge of caving in. It felt like these men were trying to put a broken egg shell back together again.
One morning, as I spooned Honey Nut Cheerios into my mouth for breakfast, the house let out a horrendous scream. My heart began to pound. Suddenly a rapid succession of pops and cracks rattled me to my core. I rushed from the house in the most undignified manner and turned to look at the house I was convinced was about to collapse. As if echoing my thoughts, the house let out a haunting creak. I’m not sure I was even breathing at that moment, I was so certain everything was going to implode.
The contractor, probably having heard my panicked flee from the house, came around the corner and explained that his workers were “pulling the walls back into alignment.”
That evening, I stood in disbelief, looking at basement walls I had been so certain were damaged beyond repair. Now they stood as straight as the day grandpa built them. Who knew walls in such dire straits could be mended so thoroughly?
Isaiah was speaking to the Israelites at a time when they desperately needed to come back into alignment with God. However, when God did not respond to their fast they were flabbergasted.
“Why are we doing to this to ourselves if God isn’t going to answer?” they muttered.
But that was the wrong question.
God didn’t care how miserable they were making themselves. God was more concerned about them stepping away from the things they were doing to make others miserable. What good is it to abstain from food when the hungry are still starving? What good is it to subjugate oneself by sitting in ashes and then unleash violence on the weak? What good is it to wear clothes of poverty and mourning if the poor are still naked and shivering?
God never wanted the people of Israel to make a show of humbling themselves. God wanted the people of Israel to actually humble themselves. God wanted them to set aside their pride, their possessions, their greed, their personal agendas, and exchange them for God’s justice. If they were truly willing to bow before God they would begin to see those suffering in their midst they had been ignoring.
The question they should have been asking was, “What does God want?”
God wanted the people to come back into alignment. God wanted them to give of themselves and to pull the weak and the hurting back into their proper place as the Creator’s precious children. They didn’t need to tear themselves down, they only needed to come back into alignment.
As we begin our Lenten journey together, consider the numerous ways in which we are out of alignment. How do we bring ourselves back into alignment with each other and with God? What will it take for us to be called “Mender of Broken Walls, Restorer of Livable Streets”?