Effecting a Transformation

Effecting a Transformation

The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.  They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song” (Isaiah 35:1-2a).

The oracle we read today from the Prophet Isaiah reminds us that Jerusalem was situated in a very arid desert wasteland, sometimes described as a salt waste.  The Dead Sea lies at the base of the mountain upon which Jerusalem was built.  If you have traveled to the Holy Land and toured the various holy places, it is not hard to decipher where a particular sacred writer lived.  The north (Galilee) is green and fertile while the south is harsh and lifeless.  Consequently, when we read the words of the prophet today, it is important that we consider where Isaiah prophesied. 

The entire passage (verses one through ten) speak of the radical transformation that will take place when the Messiah comes among us.  If one takes this literally, then we would have to admit that Isaiah got it wrong.  Two thousand years after the birth of the Christ, Jerusalem is still situated in the middle of a desert wasteland.  The transformation of nature of which Isaiah speaks is, consequently, only understandable if we read it as a metaphor for what will happen to those who welcome the Messiah.

The reading also speaks of people who are burdened with disability and how they too will be transformed with the desert: “Then the eyes of the blind shall see, and the ears of the deaf be opened; then the lame shall leap like a stag, and the mute tongue sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6a).  While we know that Jesus did bring this kind of healing with him, there are still many people in our world who are blind, deaf, lame and mute.  Once again, it is important that we understand these words metaphorically speaking.  We are all, to a certain degree, blind if we choose not to see, deaf if we choose not to hear, lame if we choose not to move toward justice, and mute if we refuse to speak in defense of the powerless. 

Where do we see ourselves in this oracle?  Does the advent of the Messiah make a difference in our lives?  Has it made a difference in the past?  While I was a director of formation for young men who aspired to the Franciscan way of life, many would tell me that they wanted to be a friar because they wanted to work for and with the poor.  I would always counter that statement by asking what they were currently doing with and for the poor.  Oftentimes, they would have to admit that they were not doing much at all.  I would counsel them to try on the role before accepting the Franciscan habit, because the habit does not change the man.

So if we are expecting the Messiah to bring these kinds of changes into our world today, the expectation is clear.  We will have to be the agents of that change.  We are the ones who have to preserve our environment, who must feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  We are the ones who must stand with those who are downtrodden.  We must speak for the voiceless.  In this way, and only in this way, will the oracle of Isaiah become a reality!

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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