If you follow issues of culture in the business world, you know that the word "outsourcing" is a charged and volatile concept. The idea of taking non-core tasks out of the basic infrastructure of a business, entrusting those tasks to third-party contractors, seems like a good idea at first. It reduces costs, perhaps it even increases efficiencies. It might just bump up the bottom line of a business, improving the profit and the marketability of the business. We have learned, though, that too much of a good thing is pretty much too much of a good thing. So much so that a "good" thing is no longer that at all. Outsourcing now has come to mean a degree of heartlessness in corporate culture: it means lost jobs, declining morale and vitality in the organization and a diffusion of purpose that can lead to long term decline. So much for a good thing.
If outsourcing is not so good a thing by our present-day standards, then what are we to make of God's use of Cyrus as the one to deliver Israel from its exile? How are we to make sense, in relationship with a God who lifts Jacob up from all the other nations to a place of favor, of a choice like...Cyrus?
In today's readings, we learn of God's intent not only for Israel but also for the whole world. God is God. There is no other. No one was before, and no god came after. As hard as that is for us to wrap our mind around, we are also reminded again and again that the temptation to indulge in idolatry is both absurd and futile. The image of a craftsman who chooses a tree, from which he cuts firewood to cook his meal and keep him warm and from which he intends to fashion a god for his worship is in many ways example enough. God is more than an idol, more than an ideal. God is the one who is the maker and redeemer of all things. That Cyrus is to be the chosen vessel of God's agency in this particular age is no issue. This outsourcing cannot degrade God. God cannot be degraded. Moreover, God's use of the nations, both to chastise and to deliver Israel, is in the prophet's song a testament to the love borne for the people. Their iniquity and their exile will not persist. God sees to that, while at the same time working to preserve the integrity of the people to make their own decision to commit to a covenant of life with the Almighty.
|The "Cyrus Cylinder," humanity's first document for human rights|
Even as we struggle with the negative legacies of our economic experiment with outsourcing on a human level, let's give some praise and respect to both our God and to God's agent in this instance...Cyrus. He was the deliverer of Israel, conqueror of the known world, author of what was perhaps humanity's first concept of "human rights" and the one whom the prophet sees as the best hope of restoration for a people broken by sin. Small wonder that later generations would appropriate these descriptives when describing the One who was to come....
...but that is another story.