Saturday of Week 1 of Advent – First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26

The first part of today’s reading consists of words of consolation for the people of Zion, who are God’s people. They shall weep no more and the Lord will respond to their cries for help. This is so:

Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction…

This is always a mystery for many: how a God who loves us so much can allow us to endure pain and hardships. Two reactions one encounters are either that God wants us to suffer so he sends us sufferings, or else that a God who tolerates such sufferings is not a loving God at all, or simply does not exist.

Yet, if we reflect, we will understand that the sufferings we endure either have natural causes which can be explained, or else are the result of the distorted actions of other human beings. But as to why I should suffer a particular mishap rather than someone else is something we cannot understand in this life. More than 3,000 people died in the 9/11 horror, but a far larger number, including some in the buildings, escaped. As Jesus once asked, on the occasion of a tower collapsing and killing a number of people:

…do you think that they were worse offenders than all the other people living in Jerusalem? (Luke 13:4)

Jesus did not think so.

Let us rather listen to the promise in today’s Reading:

Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any longer, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

God, who in the past taught through the veiled language of the prophets, will at a future time help his people to understand his teaching more clearly. This is a clear pointer to the coming of the Prophet Jesus, whose teaching made so much clear.

That time will be one of great fertility and fruitfulness:

He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and grain, the produce of the ground, will be rich and plenteous. On that day your cattle will graze in broad pastures, and the oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat silage that has been winnowed with shovel and fork.

The prophet expresses it in agricultural terms, a language easily understood by the ordinary person of the day. He also says that even:

…the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold…

But, with the coming of Jesus as indicated in today’s Gospel, it will be a different kind of fertility:

…on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of his people and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

Jesus will bring healing, wholeness, freedom and peace into people’s lives. And this is not only the work of Jesus, but also the work of his followers.

That is the paradox: although there is healing, it does not mean the end of pain or hardship or unexpected tragedies. Jesus himself, in the midst of the most terrible pain imaginable, died in the peace of a relationship of total acceptance and self-surrender to his Father. Jesus is our Teacher and invites us to walk this way.

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