3rd Thursday of Advent
Isaiah 54:1-10; Luke 7:24-40
The passage we heard in the first reading this morning was announced as taken from the prophet, Isaiah. We now know, however, that there are contributions by a number of inspired persons in this work, men who lived many years after the original Isaiah. That this Book of Isaiah has multiple authors was first shown in 1827 when I.G. Eichorn, a German biblical scholar, demonstrated that a number of prophets from different periods between 740 and 300 BC are the authors of this prophetic book. Because of the significance of the revelation it contains and the high quality of its language it often is proclaimed in the liturgy.
Today’s passage is taken from the section ascribed to second Isaiah, who lived at the time of the defeat of Jewish desperate resistance to Babylonian superior armed forces that eventuated in the destruction of Jerusalem. This calamity, surprisingly, does not lead to pessimistic complaints on the prophet’s part; on the contrary, as we heard in today’s first reading, it calls forth the hopeful and encouraging prophetic hymn. Fear not, you shall not be put to shame, he writes to the disheartened captives who were marched off to their enemy’s city of Babylon. He confidently reassures them, adding that Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, the Lord of all the earth. The Lord calls you back.
Contrary to all appearances of the conqueror’s power, this inspired prophet already foresaw the coming destruction of Babylon and the return of the Jews to the Holy City Jerusalem. The survival of the prophecy witnesses to the realization of his message. His words remained an encouraging source of hope and fidelity to the Jews. They were vindicated under the emperor Cyrus who defeated the Babylonians and arranged for the Jewish captives to return to the Promised Land and again live according to their Torah.
The Lord Jesus was very well acquainted with this history of his people and had reflected on its implications. He held no illusions about the workings of power politics, living as he did under Roman Empirical rule. He never countenanced violence or rebellion on the part of his closest followers, even when Peter sought to defend him from arrest. Yet Peter himself, after our Lord’s Ascension, did not hesitate to baptize a Roman officer on active duty, leaving him to remain in charge of occupying troops.
These Biblical passages have proved to be important in the life of the Church through the centuries. Not many months ago the present Pope Francis declared that fighting against ISIS was legitimate warfare. Before long we may find that the aggressive activities of China and Russia lead to heightened violence in the Philippines, and so involved our own country in greater measure.
Isaiah ends this passage with a sobering reminder that only eight persons were saved in the ark at the time of Noah. The vast majority were drowned in the great flood. If the Church brings to our attention these realities today, we are reminded to take them to heart and to commit ourselves with increased conviction to trusting faith that the Lord of Hosts is with us. He comes to us in the Eucharist that we now offer to the glory of his name.