Reading Matters: We have recently seen statements from American Bishops that are so different that they may seem that they are dueling. We need then to go to the most authoritative interpreters of Scripture and Tradition: the documents of Ecumenical Councils, officially issued Catechisms and encyclical letters and apostolic exhortations of Popes.
I would like to suggest the following: (Web sites appended)
Gaudium et spes ( Joy and Hope), the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, “The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.” (opening of English Translation) http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html
Lumen gentium (Light of the World), the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, “Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ” (chapter 40) http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html
The Catechism of the Catholic Church: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/
Evangelii gaudium (English: The Joy of the Gospel) by Pope Francis http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html
Twenty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
Isaiah 35: 4-7b
We evolve; God does not. This simple truth can seem so obvious that we do not realize how significant it is. There is no “God of the Old Testament” as compared with the God of the new. There is the one “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” who with a Father’s love and care has sought to bring us to a greater maturity. Jesus expresses this beautifully when explaining why he would not permit divorce: “He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mat 19:8)
Notice that Jesus is saying that he assumes both that their hearts are no longer as hard and that this is in accordance with the way he created humans. He is restoring us to our highest possibilities. Matthew reminds us again in chapter 5 of the great antithesis: “You have heard it said but I tell you” on topics from anger to divorce. Jesus is not only showing his power to make the law stricter, but our ability to live it more faithfully.
This can be accomplished only by the grace of Jesus and that this is the key moment; but, we should not believe that it came all at once. We see the guiding hand of God and the positive response of the people throughout the Old Testament. There are times in which the same book of the Bible or books written at approximately the same time can show several levels of development. Today’s passage is one such instance.
It is taken from the 35th chapter of the Book of Isaiah. As we have seen several times this summer there were at least 3 prophets who used the name Isaiah. We normally assume that the first 39 chapters were written by the first person to employ it in the 8th century BC. Today is one of the exceptions and was written about 520 BC by one of the later uses after the Jewish leaders had returned from exile in Babylon to restore the temple in Jerusalem,
Time did not stand still. Although the Jews were removed from Judea, there were others who wanted it and moved to take over practical control. We are most familiar with the Samaritans, but another was the people of Edom which bordered Judea on the south. Land disputes were solved in those days by soldiers not lawyers and there was bound to be a conflict. This is reflected in chapter 34 of Isaiah.
God is pictured as summoning the nations to a court but there is no trial, just a verdict. Speaking of Edom:
their slain shall be cast out,
their corpses shall send up a stench;
The mountains shall run with their blood,
4 and all the hills shall rot;
The heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll,
and all their host shall wither away,
As the leaf wilts on the vine,
or as the fig withers on the tree. (Isaiah 34: 3-4)
This continues for the entire chapter and reflects the justice of God. He chastised his own people with the exile for their disobedience, now in fairness He is seen doing the same to those who took part of His holy land.
We read in today’s passage the corresponding blessings which obedience brings.
4 Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you. (35:4)
Vindication here means that he will show his justice to the whole world and the obedience of the Jews will be seen to have been worth the sacrifice. Being saved by divine recompense would mean being redeemed. In the Middle East, if someone was kidnapped or captured in a war, a redeemer – usually a family member – was appointed to ransom the person. God is so close to his people that he is the Redeemer and does it himself.
This will be experienced by everyone particularly those marginalized in their daily life.
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
6 Then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the dumb will sing. (35:5-6a)
But the Jews always remembered and put before all else the good of the community:
Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
7 The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water;
The abode where jackals lurk
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus. (35:6b-7)
They will be treated justly for their obedience.
But one of those who felt comfortable using the name of Isaiah at the same time wrote:
6 It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,
to raise up the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the survivors of Israel;
I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)
The Jews were to be not only recipients of divine justice, but also missionaries of His love. God’s love is beyond borders or race, class, nationality or any other wall we can construct.
This was not an ideocracy of Isaiah; we see an even more decisive statement at about the same time from the book of Zechariah:
20 Thus says the LORD of hosts: There shall yet come peoples, the inhabitants of many cities;
21 and the inhabitants of one city shall approach those of another, and say, “Come! let us go to implore the favor of the LORD”; and, “I too will go to seek the LORD.”
22 Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to implore the favor of the LORD. 23 Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men of every nationality, speaking different tongues, shall take hold, yes, take hold of every Jew by the edge of his garment and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” Zechariah 8:20–23
To be chosen by the God of Israel is to be a missionary for the God of Israel; the sign that a person or congregation has experienced true divine love is to feel the need to share it. This is a difficult thing to learn. When Jesus indicated that to his neighbors in Nazareth, Luke tells us:
28 When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.
29 They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. (4:28–29)
It will be no less difficult for us. Yet it is to this that we are called. Where there is no justice there can be no peace, but the peace brought by justice is not enough. It is not the Kingdom of God, only a cease fire; to show the Kingdom, it must be crowned with charity. If it is not, we have not known the Lord who brings both.