“But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, ‘I am the Lord's,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord's,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.” Isaiah 44:1-5
Shelly Jackson is an author. The title of her latest work is tattooed on her right wrist: “S-k-i-n.” Her plan is that “Skin,” her 2095-word story, would be published exclusively in tattoos, one word at a time, on the skin of volunteers. She’s still looking for people to bear her final few hundred words. Google her! You can offer her your skin and become part of a counter-cultural narrative!
2,700 years ago Isaiah spoke to people who lived as captives in a foreign culture. Babylon not only proclaimed a powerful god named Marduk as king over all; they also strove to incorporate Isaiah’s people, the Judean exiles, into their faith, worship, and culture. They did so by doing things like marking them with new names. And so, the captives Hannaniah, Mishael, and Azariah became Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Isaiah assured them that a day would come when God would mark them: “This one will say, ‘I am the Lord's,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord's,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.” They were not, then, to listen to the tempting call of Babylon. Nor are we.
The dominant narrative of our day is that we can be better – younger looking and more beautiful, or healthier, or smarter, or more prosperous – if we buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t even like.
This narrative is hammered into our heads at an alarming rate. On a typical day in America, from the time we get up the morning paper until we go to sleep, we will encounter more than two thousand advertising images. And these images portray over and over again the dominant consumerist narrative: “You can buy lasting happiness! You can change who you are! You can change your name.” Mark us with a new name that will entice us into seeking ultimate fulfillment in things!
God has deemed us beloved through water and the Word. Our world would rename us cheap, dirty, and worthless unless we adopt its ways and change ourselves. God has deemed us washed, cleansed, and holy in the name of Jesus. Satan whispers to us, “Sinful and guilty.” God says that in Christ we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” The world and Satan say, “You belong to yourself. Make of your life whatever you wish!”
This dominant narrative of Satan and our society create in us a slowness to listen to and believe what God says about us. We reason, “To stand out in the crowd as different would be uncomfortable. I can live my life, claim prosperity and enjoy all its pleasures, as long as I quietly profess the name of Jesus.”
Our God has an alternative narrative, and it is one He has long told on people’s bodies; call it Skin! He gave Abraham and his offspring the covenant mark of circumcision. In Deuteronomy 6:8 He told the people to tie His words on their hands and bind them on their foreheads. In a vision God showed the prophet Ezekiel a man to using a writing kit to put His mark on the foreheads of the faithful.
It all points to the most awesome story ever told on human skin. Isaiah describes the Messiah this way: “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man, and His form marred beyond human likeness. . . . Like one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. . . . We all, like sheep, have gone astray. And the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 52:14; 53:3, 6). In Isaiah 50 we hear the Messiah speak as the Suffering Servant and say: “I gave My back to those who strike, and My cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:60) One spear, three nails, and a crown of thorns left their marks on Jesus. Did they ever!
But first the Ten, and then Thomas, saw Jesus alive. Our Savior showed His skin. He is forever marked with scars announcing His eternal love and His free forgiveness and His everlasting grace for you!
To be a part of this counter-cultural narrative, all we need to adopt is one Hebrew word: leyahweh—in English, “I am the Lord’s.” But just how does that happen? Recall the water, remember the Word, and forever cherish the liturgical rite when you were baptized. “Receive the sign of the holy cross, both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.”
This world is Babylon, but this does not mean that our lives are like the Babylonians. My life and your life are marked by another story. We have another narrative to embrace and tell. And what is that narrative? Jesus . . . with skin, through Baptism joined to our skins and raising us up to a new life now and eternal life in heaven. To Him be praise forever! Amen.