“Take a good look at my servant…. He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant, but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right. He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped until he’s finished his work–to set things right on earth.” – Isaiah 42:1, 3-4(a) (MSG)
Read: Isaiah 42:1-9
You’ve probably heard this story before. A young girl happens upon thousands of starfish that had been washed up on the beach during a storm. Methodically she began picking up each starfish, throwing them back one-by-one into the ocean.
After doing this for a while, a man approached her and asked why she was bothering with this. “Look at this beach,” he said. “You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed and discouraged at the man’s words. But, after a moment, she bent down and picked up another starfish, throwing it as far as she could into the ocean. Turning to the man, she replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!” (Adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren C. Eiseley.)
In the Book of Isaiah, I imagine the exiled people of Israel felt like those starfish. Caught in the grips of poverty and persecution as they journeyed from Babylon to Jerusalem, I can almost feel their confusion, fear and anxiety. I can envision their despair, wondering how (or if) their situation would ever improve.
Perhaps these days feel like that for some of us.
Like the Israelites, many of us today feel a burden that is too heavy to bear. Our communities and we ourselves are broken – polarized politically, socially and economically. The trials and tribulations have suffocated us for generations, filling our days and our world with division and discord. Poverty, racism, violence and injustice didn’t happen overnight and they won’t disappear that quickly, either.
The sheer magnitude of the personal, local and global struggles we face each and every day can feel inextricably overwhelming. How will we ever get off of this dry, barren ground? Will we ever get to this supposed better life?
It’s in that pit of despair that God steps in, telling the Israelites (and us) of a coming Servant–someone who will care for the bruised and hurting, who will lift up the small and insignificant and who will keep at it until the work is done. We know this Servant as Jesus, the Messiah who would set things right on the earth for God’s children.
Yet today, we are fully aware of how much work still needs to be done. We are fully aware that Christ died on the cross, yet there is unfinished business before us. Facing that journey is overwhelming. We’re weary. We’re confused and afraid. The anxiety is, perhaps, enveloping us like a cocoon of hopelessness. What can be done? How will things ever be set right on earth?
As Anabaptists, we are called to live lives of radical discipleship, continuing the servant’s work of bringing life, love and hope to the world. We are empowered by the Spirit of Christ, to trust God in all areas of life so that we– you and I–can build peace, renounce violence, seek justice and witness to God’s grace by serving others.
During this time of Lent, let’s walk with Christ to the cross–together. We may not walk out of the wilderness in a day, a month or a year. It might take us some time to meet the Servant in the garden. But, like the starfish thrower, we can make a difference–one person at a time.
Madalyn Metzger is the Vice President of Marketing for Everence and a member of the Church of the Brethren. She is the former Board Chair of On Earth Peace, during which she led the organization’s elimination of racism efforts–work that is still ongoing today. Currently, she is a member of the Manchester University Board of Trustees, the American Marketing Association and Anabaptist Communicators. Madalyn and her husband, Kris Brownlee, live in Bristol, Indiana, and attend the Goshen (Indiana) City Church of the Brethren.