Some guy bought a new fridge for his house. To get rid of his old fridge he put it in his front yard and hung a sign on it saying, “Free refrigerator: You want it, you take it.” For three days the fridge sat there without anyone even looking at it twice. He eventually decided that people were too untrusting of this deal. It looked too good to be true, so he changed the sign to read: “Fridge for sale: $50.” The next day the fridge was stolen.
I love listening to commercials that promise to get you out from under tens of thousands of dollars of credit debt or that promise to help you lose weight without diet or exercise. We have all, at one time or another, probably been a sucker for a promise that was too good to be true.
So is the prophet Isaiah just one more huckster when he says in today’s text, “Come… you who have no money. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”? Were the people of Israel that gullible?
Of course, Isaiah goes on to say, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy??
In this season of Lent we are invited to look again at what we value and hold dear. We need this invitation because we’ve often fallen for what is superficial, we’ve allowed our values to be formed by the “too good to be true” promises that surround us.
Mother Theresa, who knew a little bit about hunger, once said of America, “I have never seen a land so hungry.” In the midst of plenty it is possible to be hungry for that which truly nourishes the human soul. The invitation to reconsider what we value and hold dear is at the heart of Lent and at the heart of repentance.
We often think that repentance means admitting mistakes, but at a deeper level it’s really about a willingness to have our view of the world changed by our encounter with God… to begin to see the world the way God sees it.
I take those “too good to be true” promises at the beginning of our text, the promises of free food and drink, to be metaphors for the things that we yearn for deep down in our hearts that we cannot purchase but only receive as a gift.
This is the bread, says Isaiah, that satisfies. It is finding one’s way home after getting off the track. It is finding hope after all seemed lost. It is finding a friend in the depths of loneliness. It is finding love in all the right places after vainly searching for it in all the wrong places. You cannot purchase such bread.
In the high heat and low humidity regions of the southwest, one can find signs in national parks that say, “Stop. Drink water. You are thirsty whether you realize it or not.” This is what Isaiah is telling us. Sometimes we are so lost in our routines that we have lost touch with our deepest selves and cannot even name the feeling of inadequacy that nags at us. We don’t realize our own thirst.
The psychologist M. Scott Peck said, “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or true answers.
The water may be free, but it does come at a cost, the cost of letting go of old ways of thinking, of old habits, of old grudges, of old self-hatreds, of old resentments. It means turning in a new direction which is, literally, what repentance means. The language of repentance is this text is invitational, not scolding.
You can always get a sort of superficial repentance from someone with the threat of punishment (“Johnny, tell your sister you’re sorry or there will be no TV for you tonight.”) but the kind of deeply felt repentance in which hearts and minds are transformed arises not from the fear of punishment, but from being in touch with a sense of life as God wishes it to be. Or perhaps as God sees it can be.
It is because God can see us for what we can be, it is because God can see the potential beauty in our futures that God invites us to repent, invites us to see the world the way God sees it.
If we take up the invitation, and it is exactly that – an invitation – not a threat, we will be part of a movement transforming the world’s ugliest spots into beautiful gardens, a world where hunger and loneliness and fear and gossip and mean-spiritedness recede into the past. A world where good news is no longer “too good to be true.” Amen