Til The Moon Be No More
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with this statement. Is this a reality derived from our experience? As we approach International Human Rights Day on Tuesday, Dec 10th let’s have a look at our global village.
Imagine the world’s population of 7 billion shrunken down to 100 people living in a village. Each villager would represent 70 million people. While 50 villagers would be women and 50 men, there would be only 5 from Canada and the US. 82 would be from less developed countries, and 51 of those would live on less than $2 a day. 40 would lack access to basic sanitation and 13 would lack access to safe drinking water. 17 would be overweight and 13 would suffer from malnutrition. Out of the latter, one would die. 25 would live in substandard housing or have no home at all. Although some villagers would argue that the village could provide enough for everyone, half of the entire village’s wealth would be in the hands of only 6 people; the majority of them would be from the North American context. From these 6 rich villagers 1 would possess 40% of the village.
I wonder what an annual meeting of the village might look like. Who would get invited? Who would have the power to set the laws for the village and determine what is right and what is wrong? What do you think – are all villagers born free and equal in dignity and rights in this imagined setting? The concepts of justice and rights in a community are connected to the question of an order on which the community and every individual can rely. Sustainable order requires a minimum of equity and participation in order to make everyone feel part of this community.
One of our scripture readings for the Second Sunday in Advent is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah (Is 11). The prophetic tradition in Israel always had a role somewhere in between politics and religion. The prophets strongly believed in the relevance of God’s presence for their people and depending on the context they had different approaches: Self-critical in times of hope, comforting in times of despair and influential in situations of a new beginning. They didn’t just describe reality or promote the unquestioned continuation of existing ways. Their critique was aimed at both priests and politicians who were involved in ensuring the existing order but also at everyone else in the community. Often their visions were too utopian or revolutionary for all mentioned parties and they didn’t enjoy a lot of appreciation. Confronting people with their ideas raised questions and if these questions were taken seriously they could affect the individual lifestyle. Understandably those who were quite satisfied with their lifestyle didn’t want to hear these ideas that endangered their privileges. But here Isaiah does not speak bitter or pessimistically about problems and challenges in his society. He imagines and proclaims a new order. He talks about alternatives – that implies the possibility of improvement. The new order Isaiah envisions is generally described as “restorative.” The order that will be established by the “new shoot from the stump of Jesse” is an unexpected sign of hope and life: the growth of hope restores life. This ruler empowers the powerless and claims justice for everyone; even and especially for the oppressed and vulnerable.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights aims in that direction as well by proclaiming dignity and rights to every human being. In both cases, reality looks quite different from what is expressed in the text. But there is a lot of hope and transforming power in these visions. Although the utopian vision is also expressed with images of the end times, the prophet speaks from and into his context on earth, pointing out the link of the concept of equity with our relationships with each other and with God. To capture the might of these ideas Isaiah uses metaphors from nature and includes creation thereby into the claim of reconciliation. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
Natural enemies manage to live together in peace; they coexist side by side. Convivencia describes the shared urge to live together in peace without neglecting the particular differences and needs of each other. Recalling the picture of the global village, we realize the prophetic concept of Zion. Isaiah established this prophetic Zion theology and influenced many following writers, thinkers and believers ever since. Let us also be inspired and dare to stand up for visions that seem to be utopian like Isaiah’s vision or the vision of ensuring basic human rights to everyone, even if their way of realization may lie far beyond our understanding. And let us share the belief expressed by the psalmist of Psalm 72 in the hope that “In his days the righteous may flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more!”
Pepe Elwert is a graduate student in protestant theology in Hamburg, Germany. He has studied and worked in Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Israel and Palestine, and is currently completing an internship in Canada that included contributing to the work of KAIROS.