Monday of Week 4 of Lent – First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 65:17-21

Isaiah speaks of a coming Utopia, a totally new world full of joy and gladness. It is a world without pain or sadness, a world of prosperity and plenty. The dream is of a restored Jerusalem after the exile, and of an even greater Messianic kingdom after that.

The reading comes from the last part of Third Isaiah, a part of the book not written by Isaiah the prophet. Chapters 65 and 66 form an apocalyptic collection, and date mainly from the period after the exile in Babylon, when a remnant of the Jews had returned to Jerusalem. (While it is not often said, many of the exiles stayed behind in Babylon because life was quite comfortable for them there.)

In the writing of the earlier prophets, messianic happiness was foreseen as a return to paradise, to the bliss of the Garden of Eden. But in apocalyptic literature, such as we have in today’s reading, there is seen rather a complete renewal of our present world. So, we have the opening words today:

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth.

The past will go into complete oblivion, never to be remembered again.

There will be a new Jerusalem – a completely restored Jerusalem following the return from exile, and even more so in the Messianic kingdom to come. Later on, the Book of Revelation will link the idea of a new heaven and a new earth with the “new Jerusalem” (Rev 21:1-2).

It will be a world free of pain and sickness, no weeping or wailing, no children will die before their time and no one will live less than 100 years. We are speaking, of course, in apocalyptic language, not to be taken literally. It is a dream of better and happier times to come.

It paves the way for the coming of Jesus who, in today’s Gospel, brings healing and wholeness back to a household threatened with death. Where Jesus anticipates his later statement to Martha:

I am the Resurrection and the Life. (John 11:25)

We do not expect to live lives without pain, sickness or even tragedy, but what we can expect from our commitment to Jesus’ Way is to experience the peace which only he can give.

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