The summer season is a popular one for family reunions, perhaps in the form of a weekend gathering, a picnic in the park, or whatever else may stand as a traditional meeting spot for far-flung loved ones. When we anticipate a family reunion, we can picture in our minds the faces and mannerisms of relatives we may not have seen in a long time, but whose place in our lives is enduring simply because of the ties we share. When we get together with family, the richness of past experiences and the remembrance of people who have passed on prompt us to share memories, rehash well-worn stories, and relive the tales that shape our identities as a family. We build on the past, remembering it and always adding to it with the new memories we make. We also look to the future, wondering about who will come after us, who might marry into the family or be born into it.
Isaiah’s vision of Israel being restored after its long exile reminds me in some ways of a family reunion, a joyful homecoming after a devastating time of separation from the markers of their identity. We picture a gathering of those who were scattered, a return to what is familiar and established, a comfort after the chaos of being banished from home.
But there are key differences too. Unlike the kind of family reunion we might picture, Isaiah’s words cast a vision of a new Israel in which the membership keeps growing, far beyond the people we’d expect to be included. People like foreigners and eunuchs, who for various reasons would be seen as “outsiders” to the people of Israel, are depicted not as strangers but as vital members of God’s growing family. God’s restoration of Israel doesn’t restore things back to the way they were before the exile – it’s not a return to “the good old days” as some might have wanted, but rather it’s a vision of a new reality, one already in the making by God’s design and power.
Isaiah’s vision of a new, ever-expanding family of God is not a prediction but a narration –he is describing what is already underway as the message of salvation spreads wider and wider. It’s a foretaste of what we see more fully when Jesus incarnates the gospel message of God’s radical love for the outcast. Isaiah’s vision reminds even the “insiders” that their only claim to membership among God’s chosen people comes from God’s freely given love – the same love that now enfolds wider and wider circles of people into the fold of those who belong.
This in-gathering of God’s people, both the old-timers and the newbies, remains a present reality, and one that does not depend on God’s people “getting things right.” Isaiah invites his audience, then and now, to respond with joyful obedience to what God is doing—not in order to bring about God’s salvation, but in response to the salvation God freely offers. Our standing in the family of God is graciously offered to us all, regardless of our heritage or merit. May we all embrace the ones who God gathers into our midst, and share a message of hope for those who felt themselves to be cut off from the family of God.