Isaiah 40:21-31 “Grasshopper Eyes and Eagles Wings” Epiphany 5B

Isaiah 40:31 was one of the first scriptures I memorized in my youth. It was a great hope to feel that God could lift me up on Eagle’s wings and it still is. I love the idea of soaring above it all,
being the swift and strong eagle, with a bird’s eye view of all the grasshoppers below. But honestly, I need to back up to Isaiah 40:22 and remember that so much of my life is lived with the grasshoppers. In describing the greatness of our Creator, Isaiah starts off comparing us to the small leaf-hoppers who are more prey than predator. Isaiah had such a gift for metaphor, so I wonder if he carefully chose contrasting grasshoppers with eagles, or if any small insect or rodent would do for his literary purposes. This week I want to take some time to applaud the grasshopper as well as the eagle.

Grasshoppers have gotten a bad rap to my way of thinking. In Aesop’s fables they are the lazy, playful bug that has nothing for the winter and must beg the industrious ant for food and shelter. This carries over in the movie “Bugs Life” where the grasshoppers torment the ants like a street gang. Humans generally have a
negative view of the grasshopper as a pest that can eat us out of our spot on the food chain. I remember an Iowa summer when the grasshoppers were thicker than flies. When I walked in the pasture, each step caused a ripple of life that surged nearly 10 feet away as the mobs of grasshoppers leapt out of my way. They ate everything, the corn, the alfalfa and my mother’s tomatoes. Thank God they did not leave the Zucchini. Even that went with the insatiable herbivores.

I liked the grasshoppers. They had wings too, just like eagles. While they can not soar like eagles, they can leap 20 times more than their own body length. For a human such a feat would be a flying leap of 40 yards, which would revolutionize football, basketball and baseball if only we could land with the same grace as a
grasshopper. Grasshoppers are one of the most successful species on the planet, coming in 18,000 different varieties (who counts this stuff?) and a variety of colors. Apparently the brighter colors of
grasshoppers warn birds that they are not good to eat, something I can attest to as well.

I also like grasshoppers because of one of my favorite TV shows growing up. Remember David Carradine and the weekly drama “Kung Fu?” The main character was a wandering Chinese monk who immigrated to the US

in the latter part of the 19th century. He passed from town to town spreading Zen wisdom and kicking the snot
out of all the town bullies. Each episode would flash back to his memories as a boy growing up in the
monastery. Before delivering a pearl of wisdom, his master would affectionately call him “Grasshopper.” Something about grasshoppers speaks of playful adolescents trying to come into maturity. They look like their tongue is perpetually sticking out, they are quick to leap away and hide in the grass and have a
built in fiddle to play away the day. Grasshopper seems like an excellent name for a spiritual novice.

Now here’s why I think Isaiah chose grasshoppers to represent humanity in this chapter. Grasshoppers not only have wings, though they are much less endowed than eagles, they also have 5 eyes. Part of
their adaptability and survival comes from their ability to see everything around them in a great panorama. It is
this ability to see the wide horizon that can take us beyond being a spiritual novice. If we only see the next blade of
grass in front of us, we will not grow and thrive.  As long as I remain down in the grass, content to only look in front of me, I quickly become weighed down by trivia- annoyed by the attitudes of other people, caught up in my own selfish struggles, wondering why the grass doesn’t taste better or worried that I will run out of grass altogether.

When I read Isaiah, I hear him saying to us, “Look grasshopper…Have you not seen, have you not
heard? Look around at the big world. Behind it all is your creator, who has the expansive power of life, a power that can make a small grasshopper soar like and eagle.” In faith, it is the capacity to look at the vast expanse of the world with a sense of awe and wonder that lifts us to new heights. Seeing things with the eyes of amazement, seeing our selves in the context of being part of a majestic creation, gives our faith the “wind beneath our wings” to soar. May I learn to live with grasshopper eyes and eagles wings.

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  1. Wanted to say thanks. I missed the grasshopper by being consumed in looking for something other than Is. 40:31. In the hustle of the hour (where one hour runs into the next) I neglected the basic skill of observation.

  2. Thanks for this short piece, I have used it as the centerpiece of my sermon this week. The whole sermon is published on my blog. I have given you credit.

  3. I want to thank you. I just started a new study the Fingerprints of God by Jennifer Rothschild. The word grasshoper in Isaiah 40:22 caught my attention. I have been searching the morning for why God would choose that word-grasshoper in comparision to people. I didn’t know much about grasshopers, but I am understanding a little more. Your thoughts have helped me and touched my heart. Thank you!!

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