In the Year King Uzziah Died
Year 3 of our student trip to Guatemala carries a different weight than other years. For the last time, when I left Chicago I was leaving home, leaving our little brick home for a period of time. I kept imagining the trip in the eyes of the kids and all the new sights, sounds, and smells they’d be encountering for the first time, things I take for granted.
I keep thinking of Isaiah 6:1 as we move into this journey. and what it means for us. My (admittedly non-scholarly and non-unique) reading is that King Uzziah’s death was a big deal for Isaiah and probably for his fellow citizens of the Kingdom of Judah. Of course, the death of a king in the ancient world was a big deal, but Uzziah’s reign was one of relative prosperity, power, and faithfulness to the religious covenants of the people. His death might have put into doubt whether that would all continue, that stability and power were no longer certain and that the future was up but it wasn’t so simple. But this isn’t the only story, given Uzziah’s apostasy and leprosy. There was dangerous pride steering even the great astray. The danger of stagnation and complacency and sliding back into the bad old days of idolatry, sin, and injustice was probably on the forefront of Isaiah’s mind. Uzziah’s death (or replacement by his son Jotham as king) had to be a confusing and deeply ambiguous moment for someone as plugged in and conscious as Isaiah. He had to feel that everything was taking deep breath, poised on knife’s edge, ready to slip either way.
In the midst of all of this doubt and uncertainty Isaiah has an amazing vision of the Lord of the universe high and lifted up. All he can do is fall on his feet and receive his new calling and mission from this awesome heavenly being.
And there we are. Leaving a life of stability, what Hannah so eloquently said “I can walk to school in my sleep” but a life where the temptation of stagnation and of well-worn and well-grooved paths dulling us to the calling on our lives. This past Sunday, our pastor noted in his sermon on contentment from Philippians 4:10–13 that no one prays to be discontent. But there is a kind of discontentment that is necessary to follow in the path of the Kingdom of God: it’s the revolutionary patience that organizers and social movement folks talk about, it’s a desire to never be content with the way things are because they are not as they should be. There is virtue in a kind of discontentment and a kind of alienation from the world as it is. Losing that because of familiarity is too dangerous to ignore.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.