Thursday, March 1 (O.S., February 16), 2018: 2nd Thursday of the Great Lent; Martyrs Pamphilus presbyter, Valens deacon, Paul, Seleucus, Porphyrius, Julian, Theodulus, Elias, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Samuel, and Daniel, at Caesarea in Palestine (307-309). St. Macarius, metropolitan of Moscow, the apostle to the Altai (1926). New Hieromartyrs Priests Elias Chetverukhin (1934) of Moscow and Peter Lagov (1931). New Hieromartyr Paul priest (1938). St. Marutha, bishop of Sophene and Martyropolis, and others with him in Mesopotamia (422). New Monk-martyr Romanus of Carpenision, who suffered at Constantinople (1694) (Greek). St. Mary the New of Byzia in Thrace (9th c.). St. Basil Gryaznov of Pavlovo-Posadsky (1869).
An ancestor of Christ (Matthew 1:8), King Uzziah began his reign as a young man of 16. Thanks to the prophet Zechariah, the young king “did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:3; 2 Chronicles 26:4-5).
As an old man, his pride gets the better of him. and he tried to usurp the prerogatives of the priests and offer incense to the Lord. Afflicted with leprosy, the king spends the last 11 years of his life in “a separate house” and his kingdom ruled by his son Jotham (2 Kings 15:5, 27; 2 Chronicles 26:3).
The immediate context of Isaiah’s encounter with God is one that makes clear the devastation that follows when even God-given authority is devoid of wisdom. Uzziah is a king, not a priest. His authority is divinely circumscribed. There are things he cannot do, places he cannot go. These limits aren’t arbitrary but reflect God’s will for His People.
God calls Isaiah to make clear to people that, like their late king, they have sinned. Uzziah sought to imitate the rules of the Gentiles who held but civil and religious authority as living deities. The Jewish people had allowed this and so God makes their hearts “fat, and their ears heavy.”
God will leave them in their sins “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men and the land is utterly desolate, and the LORD removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.” He does this not out of malice but because it is the way His People will understand the corrupting influence of sin on the heart and the community.
We see also see this corrupting power in Genesis. From Adam to Enoch, as sin takes an ever firmer hold on us, we die at ever younger ages until most of us live only “threescore years and ten” and those who live longer do so in “labour and sorrow” until we are “cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10, KJV).
What then are we to do?
Solomon tells me I need to appraise soberly my situation. I too easily give others responsibility for my life. Like the Jews at the time of Uzziah, I take direction not from God but from other, fallen human beings.
So first I must cultivate detachment from others. I must struggle against vainglory, the tendency to seek the approval of others rather than God.
This a lifelong labor. And so Solomon tells me “Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber.” Like the ant, I must labor to cultivate the life of virtue. I must be obedient to God rather than seek the approval of powerful men, “of chief, officer or ruler.”
While never denying the command to love others, Solomon is aware of how easily I can fall into sin when I seek my neighbor’s good opinion of me. Seeking the approval of others will make me a “worthless person, a wicked man.” In time I will become duplicitous and manipulative; a man of “crooked speech” and sly “winks.” I will scrap my feet to avoid work and prayer, and I will be always ready to point an accusing finger at others.
Eventually, my neighbor’s good opinion of me becomes so important that “with perverted heart” I will “devises evil” for others and seek to sow “discord” between my neighbors. Tragically, I will not stop until “calamity” comes upon me and I am ”broken beyond healing.”
As we’ve seen with material wealth, without wisdom I am as prone to corruption by my friend’s love for me as a ruler is by political power. Without wisdom, wealth, love and authority–all good in themselves–become the occasion for my fall.