Saturday of Week 1 of Advent – First Reading

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

The promises of the First Reading are shown being fulfilled in the person of Jesus in the Gospel. The first part of the 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 even 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 disaster, 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, “were those who died greater sinners than those who survived?” Jesus did not think so.

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

The Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher…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. The prophet expresses it in agricultural terms, a language easily understood by the ordinary person of the day. Rain for the planted seed…producing plenteous grain…cattle grazing in rich pasture land and feeding on abundant silage…an abundance of running water. Even the light of the sun and the moon will increase seven-fold.

But, with the coming of Jesus as indicated in today’s Gospel, it will be a different kind of fertility, “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 peace and in a relationship of total acceptance and self-surrender to his Father. Jesus is our Teacher and inviting us to walk this way.

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