Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Book of Consolation: Isaiah 40

"Comfort ye! comfort ye, my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned.
"The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Make straight in the desert a highway for our God!"

If you are like I am, you are now singing the astoundingly beautiful tenor aria by Handel that begins his sublime "Messiah." Not to take anything away from the masterpiece of a musical titan, but a great deal of the magic in the music stems from the even greater genius of 'Deutero-Isaiah', the anonymous prophet writing at the end of the sixth-century BC to a broken and desparate people of Judah. If you want an idea of the hopelessness of the situation, take an hour and read Ezra and Nehemiah (if you don't have an hour, look at Ezra 3:8-13 and Nehemiah 1:1--2:20). I regard the restoration of the Jews to the land of Judah during the reign of King Cyrus to be one of the truly astounding historical facts of all time. Virtually all other captive peoples in the ancient world simply assimilated to their conquerors' cultures and gave up on their own gods.

No small amount of credit must be given to "Isaiah," as we tend to call the man who wrote the prophecies in Isaiah 40-55. His prophecies were added to the book of Isaiah at some unknown point for reasons unclear to modern scholars. But in any case, he boldly proclaimed what surely must have seemed like a pipe dream to the Jews of his time: that God's punishment of the people for their apostasy was at an end and that they remained the chosen people, in spite of all evidence.

Today, we face a different situation, but one that certainly has its share of bleakness and temptation to despair. The Church in the United States and Europe is not the fortress it once was. Yet it remains the Church, the Mystical Body of the invincible Jesus Christ. Do we share the irrepressible optimism of Isaiah (who lacked the benefit of knowing Christ)? Or do we fret and worry that maybe God has abandoned us for this or that reason (liturgical abuse, for example)?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Optimistic, no. Hopeful, yes. For me, optimism is based on what I want, whereas hope is about what God wants. What I've been hearing for the last couple of years is that the Church is being pruned of dead growth, or being shaken of all that is superfluous. With the pruning and shaking go some of my cherished memories and sentiments, but those don't save, do they?


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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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