Tag Archives: Isaiah

Friday, 3rd Week of Advent


Prophets like Isaiah promised that all nations would come to Jerusalem, to the house of the Lord. And so the temple in Jerusalem provided a Court of the Gentiles, an extensive place surrounding the Holy of Holies (above) where foreigners as well as Jews could come to hear the word of God,

Them I will bring to my holy mountain
and make joyful in my house of prayer;
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be acceptable on my altar,
For my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord GOD,
who gathers the dispersed of Israel:
Others will I gather to him
besides those already gathered. (Isaiah 56)

It’s significant that Jesus in a symbolic act when he arrives in Jerusalem at the end of his public life cleanses the temple as a sign that that time had come. The Gentiles are called; he calls them to himself. In John’s gospel, read today, Jesus speaks from the temple, most likely from the Court of the Gentiles. He’s the One whom John the Baptist has pointed out and his mission will be confirmed by his Father who will glorify him in his Kingdom.

The Advent and Christmas seasons are not only celebrations for believers, confined to a church or the homes of believers. They take place in the “Court of the Gentiles”, they bring light to the world beyond Christianity. We may not realize it, but the world listens and sees, however dimly that may be. The light of our celebrations shine in a dark world that needs hope.

In the Advent and Christmas seasons, Jesus speaks in the “Court of the Gentiles”.

Readings here.

Monday, 2nd Week of Advent

Today’s readings from the Old and New Testament complement one another. Isaiah 35:1-10 describes a “holy way” to Jerusalem’s “holy mountain” through the wilderness. God will bring Jewish exiles from Babylon on that holy way. God calls all nations, all people to take it. The blind, the deaf, the lame, the fearful will take it, for God will strengthen them. The lame will leap “like a stag” and the “tongue of the mute will sing.”

The paralyzed man brought to Jesus in the gospel and sent away singing and dancing, (Luke 5:17-26), is a symbol of a paralyzed world that Jesus sends on its journey, fulfilling the hopes of the prophets and people of the Old Testament. Jesus also fulfills humanity’s hopes, our hopes as well. God wishes to heal our paralyzed world. Isaiah’s vision isn’t small.

Our vision should not be small either. Too often we give up on things and people and the world itself. “They’re not going anywhere.” “They’ll never change.” “The world’s never going to change.” We live in a cynical world.

Let’s not forget the men who lowered the paralyzed man from the roof down to where Jesus was. They were people of hope, willing to chance it with someone who looked like he would never move his limbs again. We need more of their kind today.

“They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes to save you.Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; Then will the lame leap like a stag,then the tongue of the mute will sing… A highway will be there, called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
 nor fools go astray on it.
 No lion will be there,
  nor beast of prey go up to be met upon it.  It is for those with a journey to make,
 and on it the redeemed will walk.”

Thursday: 1st Week of Advent

Readings:

Isaiah 26:1-6:  On the day of the Lord those who depend on God will enter God’s city.

Matthew 7: 21-24-27:  Build your house on rock.

Ancient peoples often built their cities on rocky heights  because they were the safest places to live.  With water and food and strong defenses, they were less likely to be invaded. That’s why the Jews chose Jerusalem, built high on rock. It was a safe place.

But Isaiah warns against depending on natural resources or human skills and plans alone. Don’t rely on them; they can’t always  save you. The strongest city becomes “a city of chaos” that falls apart without God.

God builds the strong city, the prophet says; he is our Rock, our strong city, and he admits into its gates “ a nation that is just; one that keeps faith.”

Build your  lives on rock, Jesus says in the gospel. Don’t rely on a token faith (Lord, Lord) to save you or be like fools who build on sand .

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them

will be like a wise person who built a house on rock.”

Questions:

A secular society like ours often sees religion as a destructive force or a brake on progress. It turns to  “human reason” alone? How can we depend on God in society today?

How do you build your personal life on rock?

“It is better to take refuge in the LORd, than to trust in man.                                                                                                    It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” 
(Psalm 118)

In Your Light We See Light

Icon depicting the Sower. In Sts. Konstantine and Helen Orthodox Church, Cluj, Romania. Licensed by Sulfababy of en.wiki under CC BY 2.5.

16th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Psalm 36; Matthew 13:10-17

The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?” He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. 

This text has been interpreted as dividing the world into “us” (insiders) versus “them” (outsiders), but for practical spirituality it is more helpful to think of the two as stages in one’s own journey. We all begin as beginners in the spiritual life, as infants needing milk and parables. If we receive divine nourishment willingly day by day, we will eventually be able to take the solid food of the deeper “mysteries.” But solid food is for the mature (Hebrews 5:12-14; 1 Corinthians 3:2).

Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see.

It is helpful to ask oneself, when do I hear without understanding, or look without seeing? What are the obstructions that prevent union and communion in the Trinity?

Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them. “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Receptivity to divine mysteries is a matter of the heart. From the moment the seed of grace is planted in baptism, the lifelong process of watering, fertilizing and nurturing the new heart begins. Grace transforms stone into flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Spiritually enlightened eyes and ears develop as the Holy Spirit works from the inside out to transform every cell of our being.

For with you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light (Psalm 36:9).

-GMC

A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break

Byzantine icon, The Good Shepherd

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Matthew 12:14-21

The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. 

What a rabble-rouser, this Jesus! Picking grain on the sabbath, and then healing a man with a withered hand—in the synagogue, of all places! How dare he lecture the authorities on “doing good on the sabbath”! Such were the thoughts fomenting among the Pharisees. Buried alive under the letter of the law, their hearts turned stone cold when confronted with their twisted ethic of prioritizing an animal on the sabbath over a human being (Matthew 12:11). 

When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place.

There was no point in contending or debating. The hearts of the Pharisees were dead set against him. Another word from him would only add kindling to the fire.

Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known.

People were suffering, and so the work of healing and mercy must go on. Jesus acted according to his nature; he could not do otherwise. Love must prevail over all obstacles, even the threat of death. The nature of divine love, however, is unassuming: it acts but seeks no credit. Goodness is as natural, abundant, pervasive, and invisible as the air everyone breathes. What need was there for any special recognition?

This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Isaiah the prophet: Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I shall place my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.

The Spirit-filled servant prophesied by Isaiah flowed as gently as water over hard and sharp rocks, but just as invincibly—smoothing them over time and conquering them by love. Uncontentious and without fanfare, the lamb of God came to lead the weak and frail to victory in the valley of humility. 

And in his name the Gentiles will hope.

-GMC

From Womb to Womb

Icon of the Visitation

Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Isaiah 49:1-6, Psalm 139, Acts 13:22-26, Luke 1:57-66, 80

Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works. (Psalm 139:13-14)

King David sang with lyre and harp the mystery of his origins. Like a loving mother, God stitched him with needle and thread in his mother’s womb. 

The prophet Isaiah received his name and mission “from my mother’s womb” to be “a light to the nations.” 

John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb… to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:15, 79).

The greatest of the prophets—the “Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:14)—Zechariah’s son was the first to be sanctified in the womb by the Holy Spirit, marking a turning point in salvation history. The Spirit who hovered over the waters at creation, inspired David’s psalms, and spoke through the prophets, anointed the Forerunner of the Son of God in Elizabeth’s womb.

At six months of age, before his body was fully formed, John’s spirit was whole and awake before reason or the senses knew the light of day. At the voice of Mary, John “leaped” in his mother’s womb “and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41). 

Mary, full of grace and the Holy Spirit, was immaculately conceived in her mother’s womb in preparation for her role as the Mother of God.

The Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was neither sanctified in the womb nor immaculately conceived, but beyond conception itself, though language must grasp at the graspable to express his beginningless beginning. The only-begotten Son of the Father was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s immaculate womb, uniting in his Person divinity and humanity, heaven and earth.

The new Eve, the new Adam, and the new Elijah closed the Old Testament and opened the New. The Holy Spirit, who was known only vaguely in the Old Covenant took center stage in the Acts of the Apostles after Pentecost. From womb to womb down the centuries, the Spirit of truth has led us back to the Eternal Womb of the Father from whom all persons originate. 

The spirit longs to soar beyond history to the eternal principle from which everything originates. Beyond the Story (history), beyond time and eternity, beyond the beyond…

“No one has ever seen God;
the only-begotten Son,
who is in the bosom of the Father,
has made him known.”

John 1:18

-GMC

Who is the “Son of David”?

The Psalms scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

9th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday

Mark 12:35-37

Jesus’ discourse in the temple is unintelligible unless we put on the mindset of the people who were listening. Psalm 110:1, a Messianic prophecy, was very familiar to the crowd in which David said, 

The Lord says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
while I make your enemies your footstool.”

The reference to “my Lord” was understood to be “the Christ” or the “Anointed One,” a king who would come from the line of David. The expectation of a “Son of David,” the primary title for the coming Messiah, was cultivated for centuries and shaped the cultural lens. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel foretold that a shoot or righteous Branch would spring from the stump of Jesse, a Davidic child and king who would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The hoped-for descendant of David was so ingrained in the popular mind that those who heard Jesus and sought his healing power often cried out to him, “Son of David!” If Jesus was the Messiah, then he would sit on the throne of David and “shepherd” his flock (Ezekiel 34:23).

Jesus knew his audience well and opened with the question, “How do the scribes claim that the Christ is the son of David? …David himself calls him ‘Lord’; so how is he his son?”

Familiar words, yet it never dawned on the scribes to make the connection between sonship and lordship. Why would David call his own descendant his Lord? In this psalm, David declares that his descendant will be equal in dignity and authority with God—one who “sits at His right hand.”

The prevailing mindset viewed the “Son of David” as an anointed king according to the flesh alone—a purely biological descendant of David. The idea that this Son is eternally begotten of God and would enter time in the womb of a Virgin Mother was completely out of their orbit. Centuries and centuries of oral tradition, rabbinic discussions, dinner conversations and “cocktail parties” had painted the “Son of David” as a political or military hero come to establish an earthly kingdom. Up until the last hour of Jesus’ earthly mission, at the Ascension, his disciples were still asking, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Cultural consciousness does not easily shift.

Jesus’ greatest challenge was transforming minds to look beyond to the heavenly kingdom, and gaining acceptance of his identity as the Son of God. Moving an ancient mindset was more difficult than raising the dead. At a mere word, lepers were healed and the lame walked, but opening the minds of free thinking persons to “see” the familiar in a new light was no easy task. 

Against the backdrop of Judaism, the later reflections of the apostles John, Paul, and the Church Fathers represent a seismic shift in consciousness. Flights into the “Word made flesh,” and of an eternal Son who sits at the right hand of—not just God, but the Father (Ephesians 1:17-21)—are from another universe of thought all together. 

Step one is simply recognizing that the “Son of David” is divine. Step two—that the Son is equal to God the “Father”—is a paradigm shift. Step three—that the Spirit who “proceeds from the Father” will come to dwell in us—is yet another shift. St. John included the Last Supper Discourse in his Gospel, in which he gives the fullest revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament, to supplement the other accounts which were focused on the basics of Jesus’ revelation.

In the first four centuries after the Ascension and Pentecost, the Church Fathers advanced humanity’s reflection on the Psalms. In the light of the Trinity, they found new, hidden meanings that eluded the psalm writer himself. For example, taking Psalms 110:3 and 2:7 together, St. Athanasius reflected that it is the Father who says of His Son, “I have begotten You from the womb before the morning star;” and again, “You are my Son, this day have I begotten you” (Defense of the Nicene Definition 3:13).

This insight surpassed the limited goal of Jesus at the temple, which was simply getting to step one. St. Athanasius was not reading something alien into the Psalms, for Jesus affirmed that David was “inspired by the Holy Spirit” when he wrote it. Prophets are sometimes unaware, as when the high priest Caiaphas declared that one man should die for the people (John 11:50).

-GMC

2nd Sunday of Advent: “Go with Joy”

In the time of Jesus pilgrims from Galilee came up to Jerusalem a number of ways. Many came down the Jordan Valley, a journey of 90 miles. When they reached the city of Jericho they turned eastward onto a steep, winding road that ascended for 3500 feet and 15 miles to the city of Jerusalem. A picture taken from an airplane in the 1930s shows that winding, climbing road through the desert. It had to be the hardest part of their journey.Jericho Rd  3
Jericho road modern

Now travelers go that route in air-conditioned buses. It took ancient travelers four days. Not it’s a few hours.

The bible sees the journey to Jerusalem, especially the last part up that steep winding desert road as a symbol of our journey to God. We’re pilgrims on our way, The way’s still hard, even with air-conditioned buses.

John the Baptist preached where that winding, climbing road began. His father, Zachariah, a priest in the temple in Jerusalem, told him at his birth: “You, my child shall be called a prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.” (Luke 1)

John invited weary pilgrims into the refreshing waters of the Jordan river, that they might be strengthened for the journey.

John Baptist preaching

Last week readings warned about falling asleep through complacency and laziness. This week readings remind us the day by day journey can tire us,  Life can wear us out, even a life doing good.

Then, unexpected things, like sickness, failures and disappointments, come along, robbing our energy. The parable of the Good Samaritan happened on this road to Jerusalem. Unexpected things happen.

John the Baptist, and the Prophet Isaiah before him, spoke to weary pilgrims. “‘Comfort, give comfort to my people,’ says the Lord…They spoke words of hope to those on the way:

With God’s help, the winding, climbing, wearying road becomes a highway; every valley  filled in, every mountain and hill made low, the rugged land  made plain, the crooked way straight.

The Lord is ” a shepherd feeding his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40: 1-5,9-11) So don’t be afraid.

Advent is a beautiful season. “Go up with joy to the house of the Lord.”

What You Find in the First Week of Advent

The daily Advent readings at Mass for the first week of Advent are beautifully arranged..

In the Old Testament readings,  the Prophet Isaiah speaks as a fierce Assyrian army heads towards Jerusalem. Bad times ahead, but the prophet sees something else. All nations are streaming to God’s mountain.

The nations will come to God’s mountain, Jerusalem, where the temple stands, the prophet says.  They’ll be fed a rich banquet (Wednesday),  the poor will triumph (Thursday),  the blind will see (Friday). Safe on this rock, children play around the cobra’s den, and the lion and the lamb lie down together (Tuesday). The prophet  challenges us to see our world in another way.

In the gospels  Jesus Christ fulfills the Isaian prophecies. The Roman centurion, humbly approaching Jesus in Capernaum, represents all nations approaching him. (Monday)  Jesus praises the childlike;  they will enter the kingdom of heaven.(Tuesday)  He feeds a multitude on the mountain.(Wednesday) His kingdom is built on rock.(Thursday)  He gives sight to the blind to find their way.  (Friday)

Many Advent readings in these early weeks of Advent are from the gospel of Matthew, who portrays Jesus teaching on a mountain (Isaiah’s favorite symbol). His miracles affect all. Jesus is the new temple, the Presence of God, Emmanuel, God with us. He brings hope beyond human hope.

Lord, help us see what you and the prophets see.