The Word Goes Out

The first reading today is from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and is one of my favorite passages:

Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Is 55:10-11)

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Prophetic Fasting

The second reading for today comes from the Prophet Isaiah – a book of complex content and 66 chapters long – yet there is a narrative, meta-narrative if you like, that threads and unifies the whole of the prophetic book. But, today we are privy to only 9 verses, all from Chapter 58.

I think the reason is straightforward why this reading was selected and paired with the gospel reading from Matthew 9. Both address fasting, one of the pillars of Lenten practices and piety. Just two days ago on Ash Wednesday we were reminded: “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites” (Mt 6:16). Today our two readings take on the practice of fasting and ask us to examine our own intentions about following this Lenten practice. Continue reading

Fulfilled in your hearing

This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time in which Jesus speaks in the synagogue in Nazareth after having read from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is important to note that this mission is specifically directed at the needs of people: poor, captive, blind, oppressed. Significantly, Jesus’ work will be good news to the poor. Mary’s prayer (1:52-52; the Magnificat) praises the Lord for lifting up the lowly and sending the rich away empty. Later, Jesus announces God’s blessing on the poor (6:20) and then refers to the fulfillment of the charge to bring good news to the poor in his response to John (7:22). The poor also figure more prominently in Jesus’ teachings in Luke than in any other Gospel (14:13, 21; 16:20, 22; 18:22; 21:3). Continue reading

In the power

This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time. A key phrase in this Gospel is “In the power of the Spirit.” As noted, this passage begins with a reference to Jesus being “in the power of the Spirit.” While there are no doubt some implicit Trinitarian ideas here, the OT should serve as the means of understanding the direction of Luke’s narrative. The OT metaphors of wind (Heb: ruach – breath, wind, spirit), smoke, and cloud, as well as fire, were ways of talking about the active presence of God in the world. Even though the single Hebrew term is translated in various ways even when used of God, this idea became a way to talk about God in terms of his immediate activity in the world. The idea behind the Hebrew term ruach expressed the immanence of God in the world and encompassed his willingness and power to act in human history. This idea carried over into most of the NT since the equivalent term in Greek (pneuma) carries the same varied meaning.  As well, this “power of the Spirit” also points to a commissioning of prophets and enabling leaders to carry out their mission. Continue reading

A still small voice

In 1 Kings 19 we have Elijah the prophet on the run from the wrath of Queen Jezebel who has sent an army to track down and kill Elijah. He is hiding in cave wondering where is God in all this

Then the LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.” (1 Kings 19;11-12)

That is the New American Bible (NAB) translation. The other translations are quite similar, but the very last phrase has a lot of subtle variations:  “a still small voice”, “a low whisper” and others. The Hebrew word used demā·mā primarily means “a hush” or “a whisper.”

That comes to mind in today’s first reading from Isaiah: “While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: ‘This is the way; walk in it,’ when you would turn to the right or to the left.”

May we always and ever be open to that still small voice that speaks to us to keep us on the path of righteousness.

The Prophet Isaiah – part 1

IsaiahprophetIsaiah, one of the greatest of the prophets, appeared at a critical moment in Israel’s history. To say that his ministry was part of one of the most complicated periods, is an understatement. During his time, the promised land had already split asunder. The people were no longer ruled under Jerusalem and the throne of David. Most of the tribes of Jacob formed the Northern Kingdom (referred to as Israel in this period) with the remaining tribes still loyal to Jerusalem and the throne of David – referred to as Judah.

Beyond the borders was the ever-looming threat of the Assyrian Empire whose capita city was Nineveh. It was in the area of modern-day Mosul in Northern Iraq. Compared to Israel, it is to the northeast at some distance.

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The Prophet Isaiah

This 15th Week of Ordinary Time (2020) the first readings in the daily Masses are from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. With other prophetic works, to talk about the writings are to talk about the prophet themselves. Isaiah calls for more nuance in that the prophet was a person of the 8th century BCE who preached to Judah (the southern kingdom) and its capital Jerusalem. It was during a particularly turbulent era of three Judaean kings and four Assyrian kings. The later who sought to overrun the western Fertile Crescent that also included the Kingdoms of Israel (north) and Judea (south). Isaiah provides more than enough “markers” for us to know with certainty that he exercised his prophetic ministry from 740-701 BCE.

And yet, in Isaiah 44:28 (and 45:1), the prophet proclaims that Cyrus, King of Persia, will release the Jews from the Babylonian Exile, return them to the promised land and order that the city and the temple be rebuild. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 587 BCE with Cyrus conquering Babylon some 40 years later – in other words, 110-150 years after the prophetic ministry of Isaiah who preached to the three Judaean kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. What are we to make of that? Continue reading