How would the lamb entertain the wolf on that day when the knowledge of the Lord fills the earth?
This reading from Isaiah 11 is my favorite of the Advent season. It contains my favorite images for the Christmas season as well, and when possible it is the theme of my Christmas cards.
This year, with more than the usual amount of conflict in the air for this time of year, the imagery raised questions for me. Here in Colorado we prayed for the victims of the Club Q shooting as some laid blame on the Archbishop for his LGBTQ-unfriendly school policies. We hear daily of atrocities in the war on Ukraine, and the people of Sudan starve in the face of terrorism from Boko Haram. Still one more acrimonious Senate race grinds on. And this is not counting Covid-19 and stolen elections.
I’ve always thought of this promised time of harmony among the animals as a vision of heavenly peace, where somehow the various predators would have curbed their appetites and all agreed to live together. But what if, instead, it speaks to us today, where we are wolf or lamb to one another? What if this is a parable about what can be when we live on God’s holy mountain?
So, the lamb invites the wolf over, maybe for veggie lasagna. The wolf would feel more at ease inviting the lamb, being in the power position, much as the fox in Chicken Licken. He would have to curb his hunger, of course, choosing vegetarian fare to please his guest. But no, it is the lamb, who normally has the prudence to avoid the wolf, who now has him over. Why? One asks. Maybe to discuss their differences? Somebody had to take the initiative, after all. Without free and honest discussion, how will anything ever change? She does some research on wolves and finds that they actually like milk and cheese, so with the added spinach and zucchini, he might be satisfied.
Sleek black leopard has little patience for young goats. Silly animals, even as adults, with their leaping and grazing and browsing. It’s embarrassment as much as anything that makes welcoming this tiny, awkward creature to lie down against your warmth highly irritating. What would one’s hip predatory friends think? And that I haven’t polished it off in a few bites? “But it could be one of my kits,” she thinks. Needs a mom.
Then there are the calf and the young lion with the child. This is easier to picture, since the young find it easier to accept differences. I picture our back doorstep, where the black dog, the black cat and the black kid slept in a pile together, all of them racing to get in when the door opened. Yes, that’s a black goat kid. My human toddler helped herself to the goat’s meal as I milked.
Years later, her daughter came to my apartment in an ethnically diverse complex, and became close friends with children from Guatemala and Lebanon, Spanish- and Arabic-speaking. African American girls brought out their dolls to play and demonstrate gymnastic tricks on the play structure. Skyler complained that she didn’t know Spanish yet, and wondered if she were brown enough.
Jesus, that Bud from the sprout of Jesse’s root, said we should become as little children. Did he say, Unless you become…?
And the cow and the bear shall be neighbors. They are not enemies; just nothing in common. The cow lives a quiet, purposeful life, geared to its human owners’ needs. A kept creature, it doesn’t question the grand scheme of things. Bear, on the other hand, has to prepare for winter, depending on her wits to scout out food for herself and her young. Humans have encroached on her hunting grounds, and she will not let this stop her. Use them to achieve your purposes! As neighbors, these two end up in lots of arguments. Bear presents her latest conspiracy theory, and cow wants to talk about pastures. What can ever bring these two together? But Cow has stopped deploring Bear, realizing that she has a pretty good thing going, even if she will not enjoy a long life. Bear tries to be philosophical, knowing the life of a trash can robber is not for everyone. Both can feel safe letting their calf and cub romp together.
Here is the one I struggle most with: How would lion eat hay like the ox? Simple, I realize, glancing at the kitten curled up on my desk. Cat grass! And this one doesn’t mind munching on dried catnip either. Is it adaptation, or do we really have untapped inner resources? Our genome as mammals is so similar that human and animal diseases can be mapped on corresponding genes. And so, as humans, our genetic makeup is even more similar.
Many today are lightly dismissing the challenge of climate change with the assertion that we will adapt. That we will, but those kinds of adaptation will not be easy, and we are even now not doing well at it.
But I am talking about the kind of adaptation we need to be able to live together. In the dog-eat-dog world of rampant capitalism, can the greed to possess and progress be softened by a willingness to live simply, like the ox, low on the food chain, content with life in community?
My daughter and son-in-law recently moved with the children to Tennessee. Soon a text arrived with a picture of a copperhead curled up in their garage. “Don’t let the kids go out there,” I texted back. I was in horror for days.
Baby play by the cobra’s den? Child reach into the adder’s lair? Total innocence in the face of the very symbol of evil! Is Isaiah telling us that on God’s holy mountain evil itself is defeated? Isn’t that what Jesus Christ accomplished by his coming and dying?
What a lot to look forward to as we contemplate living on God’s holy mountain, when “all the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.” We may not see it now, but this is what the blueprint shows us. Time to start adapting.