The Daily Bread, 23rd March 2020.
Readings: Isaiah 65:17-21; Psalm 29(30):2,4-6,11-13; John 4:43-54
It is as if the Lord wrote the words of today’s reading by Isaiah’s hand for the precise situation in which the world now finds itself. So, they are worth quoting in full:
“Thus says the Lord: Now I create new heavens and a new earth, and the past will not be remembered, and will come no more to men’s minds. Be glad and rejoice for ever and ever for what I am creating, because I now create Jerusalem ‘Joy’ and her people ‘Gladness.’ I shall rejoice over Jerusalem and exult in my people. No more will the sound of weeping or the sound of cries be heard in her; in her, no more will be found the infant living a few days only, or the old man not living to the end of his days. To die at the age of a hundred will be dying young; not to live to be a hundred will be the sign of a curse. They will build houses and inhabit them, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.”
I said above, “it is as if.” With God’s Word, though, it actually never is “as if.” God’s Word always “ is” for our time. His Word endures for ever. It is permanently and perpetually relevant to the life of the world, of every community and of every individual person. God’s Word is the Person of the Son. It is this Person of the Son who is the total expression of the Father, of all the Father has ever wanted to say to anyone at any time in the course of history and in the expanse of the earth. The Father foresaw all of history before it began and that includes today and the times in which we live, suffer, love, rejoice, fade and die.
But he also foresaw the end and fulfilment of history. Neither this end nor this fulfilment is the work of humanity. Just as we do not have the right to exist before we exist but only after we are conceived in the womb; so we do not have the right to die before God in his wisdom and providence calls us to die. Again, just as history had no “right” to exist before God created time and space and everything else that he created, so history will not end until that day comes which “only the Father knows.” Even more: just as the ultimate fulfilment of our individual human lives is not within our own power but is a free gift of divine love, so the ultimate fulfilment of human history will not be the result of collective human power and effort but the free gift of the One who is both Alpha and Omega.
And so, the Word of God precedes all things, accompanies all things, permeates all things and fulfils all things. It therefore accompanies and permeates and will bring to fulfilment in God’s way all that is happening to us now. But be careful. This working of the Word of God does not violate human freedom. How could it, since human freedom itself is precisely a creation of the Word? No, the working of the Word works with the willing heart of man, provided man’s heart trusts and believes in that Word and does not try to drown it out with the wordiness of mere human thinking or change its meaning to suit human preferences.
Thus, the words of Isaiah above, are spoken to us today, here and now, and they seek in us and from us a welcoming and loving heart, an obedient and trusting heart. A heart like this is like the deep soil of the parable of the sower which will bear fruit now thirty, now sixty, now a hundred-fold. It is like the heart of Mary and, before Her, of Abraham. It is a heart that is formed and reformed by the Word so as to conform it to Himself. It is the Christian heart and therefore it is the true human heart.
And what does Isaiah’s prophecy mean, then, to those who have such a heart? It means hope! It means victory! It means that we who are anxious will become Confidence. It means we who are fearful will become Trust-in-Yahweh. It means above all the sovereign rule of the love and providence of God over and above and beyond the sound of weeping and cries we now hear. It means that the short-lived infant and the old man’s life which are prematurely cut off will flourish eternally. As Jesus turned water into wine at Cana, as he turned critical illness into health at Capernaum, as he turned death into life at Bethany (Lazarus), he will turn this old earth and heavens of ours into a new heavens and a new earth where the past and its sorrows and sin will not be remembered and will come no more to men’s minds.
Let the words of Isaiah ring sweetly in your ears and more sweetly still in your hearts. Spend time today thinking of the new Jerusalem over which the Lord will rejoice and of the new humanity in which he will exult as on a day of festival. To do this is not avoidance of the grim reality before us, but rather it is realistic trust in the true reality which awaits us. Think of heaven, of what it means, of what it might be like. If you do, you will, like the disciples of Emmaus, find Jesus himself walking with you, sitting with you in your home, consoling you in your tears and lifting your hearts and faces up without fear towards the Father.
Let me end with a quote from St. Paul: “I think that the sufferings of this life are not worth comparing with the joy which awaits us in the future” (Romans 8). Let’s place our hearts and wills and sufferings “inside the Word” so that the Person of the Son will bestow upon them an unwavering faith and trust.