Monday of Week 2 of Advent – First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 35:1-10

The First Reading expresses the excitement and anticipation of God’s coming in our midst. The passage comes from a longer passage (chaps 34-35) which speaks of the ultimate triumph of Jerusalem. It is sometimes known as the ‘Little Apocalypse’. It describes the final terrible battles, which will be waged by Yahweh against the nations in general, but against Edom in particular. This is followed by the prediction of a final judgement when Jerusalem will be re-established in all its glory.

Why was Edom picked out especially as the object of God’s anger? “The land of Edom” extended from the head of the Gulf of Akabah, to the south shore of the Dead Sea. It is a wild and rugged region, traversed by fruitful valleys. At the time of the Exodus, the Edomites refused permission to the Israelites to pass through their land, and ever afterwards maintained an attitude of hostility toward them. After being conquered by David and later by Amaziah, they regained again their independence, and in later years, made war against Israel. The Edomites took part with the Chaldeans when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem, and afterwards they invaded and held possession of the south of Palestine as far as Hebron.

Clearly, all this did not endear them to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. Some feel the present desolate condition of that land is a standing testimony to the inspiration of the prophets’ warnings. After an existence as a people for more than 1,700 hundred years, the Edomites have utterly disappeared, and even their language is forgotten forever. In the capital, Petra (also known as Sela), “where kings kept their court, and where nobles assembled, there no man dwells; it is given by lot to birds, and beasts, and reptiles”.

Today’s reading is in sharp contrast to the destruction of Edom described in chapter 34. Instead, there comes a description of the blessings which are in store for Jerusalem. It is similar to the description of the return from exile in Babylon found later in chapters 40-55 (Second Isaiah).

In contrast to the desolateness of Edom, the barren areas of the land will bloom and all shall see the glory of God:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and shouting

Words of encouragement are to be given, perhaps by the prophets:

Strengthen the weak hands
and make firm the feeble knees.

Not only will life return to nature but all kinds of disabilities will be removed from people’s lives – the eyes of the blind opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame leaping like deer, the tongue of the speechless singing for joy. We find such a prophecy constantly confirmed by the works of Jesus and foretold by him at the beginning of his public life (Luke 4:18) using a similar prophecy from Isaiah (61:1).

And so too, today’s Gospel is a graphic example, describing the total healing – in body and spirit – of a man who was paralysed. The former wilderness, too, will be transformed by an abundance of water – something that people in the Middle East can probably appreciate much more than we can. And, with the coming of water, the whole land bursts forth into new life, a land is transformed. All this we see now as a symbol of the spiritual richness that Jesus would bring into our lives.

And so the passage concludes with:

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way

The “unclean” will not travel on it; they will go their own way, on the broad road that leads to their own destruction. Rather, the highway:

…shall be for God’s people;
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

Again, Jesus is that Way. As long as we are on that Way we have nothing to fear.

Finally the:

…ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing.

Instead of the baggage the ordinary travellers carried on their heads, these will come with everlasting joy on their heads. Joy and gladness will be theirs and:

…sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

This is what we look forward to in our coming Christmas celebration. The birth of the Child is the beginning of all that is foretold here. May we be part of it.

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