The Lord called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name. He made my words of judgement as sharp as a sword. He has hidden me in the shadow of his hand. I am like a sharp arrow in his quiver.
3 He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.”
4 I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.”
5 And now the Lord speaks— the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant, who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him. The Lord has honoured me, and my God has given me strength. He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
In the 2001 film Attila, the young Attila the Hun is rescued by his uncle, and instantly subject to a questioning, aimed at assessing the young warrior’s knowledge of materials of war.
The following discourse occurs:
Rua: How many layers in a bow?
Attila: Two of wood, two of bone.
Rua: How long must you heat the bow before you string it?
Attila: Until the outer layer sweats.
Rua: You’ve been taught well.
Rua: Some say it takes months to make a bow. But…it takes 15 years. It starts when the tree is first planted. You cut the wood too soon, the bow lacks strength, too late, it becomes brittle.
Bow, a fine weapon, takes many years to make. And so does every one who is called by the Lord to his service. Just like the warrior chooses the sapling, and watches over it, grooms it and harvests it in the right time, so does the Lord hone his warriors, his arrows to be sent forth in the fullness of time.
From the point of view of the arrow – or bow – the honing and tempering process might seem too long, or too drawn, or totally useless. The prophet Isaiah testifies to this: “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.” Every one in the church work – or any other relationship – has felt this at some point of development.
So, on the one hand, we have the Lord preparing his warriors. On the other hand we have the warriors seeing no sense in their journey, or not at all times of their journey.
Have you noticed that even if the arrows seem to be the same, each one of them has its own character? And God’s quiver is full of them, and getting fuller every day.
When we think of humans as created in the image of god, two opposite things are true about them. First, each one of us is born to be a person, an individual, a separate, unique entity with their own gifts and tasks in the society. Second, each person has this drive to join a community, a group, not to be alone. These two processes constitute a never-ending tension in the Christian life.
First – how to be unique? How different must a Christian be in appearance, in what they wear or how they speak? Do we have an answer in the Gospels? Not really. If we define Christian as a follower of Jesus, and follow closely what Jesus did or did not do, there is not much. I do not think Jesus looked like the scenic moon-walker Zeffirelli created in his Jesus of Nazareth. He looked, and walked, and talked like the carpenters – educated carpenters – of his day would. His exterior and language did not differ much from his contemporaries.
Then, what is the difference? It is threefold. First, Jesus is the Son of God. He calls God – Father. He has a son’s relationship with God. Second, Jesus acted differently from his contemporaries: he was gruff where they were lenient, and showed mercy where they wanted to condemn. And all this because he did not look at appearances and social statuses of the people around him, he rather paid attention to what is inside a person’s heart and soul. Third, he collected all the transgressions of humanity – he really did, like a gardener, collecting deadwood – and took them with him in his death, and then became alive again, with a new, divine life, extending this life to those who would follow him.
And so the followers of Christ today must be different on the inside rather than the outside – initiating a relationship with Christ in their baptism, practising mercy and justice as they walk in this life, and partaking of the life of Christ in the Sacraments.
The wish, the necessity to be unique in the Christian life is not a form of pride. It is the result of Christ-likeness, through him and in relation to him, becoming one’s true self, free of all contamination of sin and deceit (as C.S.Lewis writes in his immortal ‘Till we have faces’ and ‘The Great Divorce’)
Second: gravitation toward community. The warrior of God, once fashioned and empowered, is placed first, in his quiver. Then these arrows are shot into the world, to bring back quarry. Notice: The Lord called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name.[..] He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.” Like the arrow, shot forth from the hunter’s bow, the warrior of God, the follower of Christ, is called upon to wound those who yet do not know God. To wound, not to slay; to pierce the soul’s shell, so that the Spirit of God can enter and do its healing and transformation.
As Christians, we have been chosen – before we ever knew it – to become the saving arrows of Christ. In our prayers, and our listening, and our sharing of what our essence is, we become the community of the faithful, ever growing, ever developing, ever changing. Just like the warrior looks out for the right tree for his bow and arrows, God looks out for his people, and he collects them out of all walks of life, and places them in his Church for empowerment and sharpening, and fletching, and all sorts of other things. And when this process becomes too hard, there is this to remember – even in his complaint of emptiness, the prophet still asserts that his reward is in the Lord, he is in God’s hand at all times, good or bad.
So – what kind of arrow shall you become? The one who bleeds the quarry to death, or the one who opens it up to the healer of souls? What sort of warrior will you be? What sign to this world of conformity and mayhem?
When the days of honing and fletching take their toll, it helps to remember that it is not for nothing that the follower of Christ is changed. God does not neglect his arrows, his messengers – he prepares them for the moment of truth, the precise shot, to reach other souls in need of salvation.
(preached in Latvian, in Krimulda, Jan 16, 2011)