Thursday of Week 15 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 26:7-9, 12, 16-19

We have today a beautiful prayer for judgement to come soon. It is the prayer of one who wants to follow closely the Lord’s way: “The path of the upright man is straight, you smooth the way of the upright.” His one longing is to be close to his Lord. “Your name, your memory are all my soul desires.” This contrasts strongly with the cruel and materialistic world of yesterday’s reading.

The next phrase is also a lovely one and one which we could make our own prayer: “At night my soul longs for you and my spirit in me seeks for you. ” We speak today of “seeking God in all things”, in every person, in every experience, in every situation.  This is where our lives get their true meaning. And, when your judgements appear on the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn the meaning of integrity. For it is the judgements of God which throw light on what is really good and true and just.

The upright person too totally accepts those judgements and decisions of God: “Lord, you are giving us peace, since you treat us as our deeds deserve.” The good person has nothing to fear: good deeds will bring their own reward; evil deeds will bring their consequences too.  In either case, the good experience peace because, whatever happens, they are in touch with God’s love.

The pains that follow from sinful acts are accepted: “Distressed, we search for you, Lord; the misery of oppression was your punishment for us.” Everything, absolutely everything – be it good or bad, pleasant or painful, as Paul reminds us, works together for the ultimate good of those who love God. Those without that love are left pained and puzzled.  Those with love find peace in every experience.

At the same time the prophet speaks with regret of how the people have not lived up to their commitments.  Speaking on their behalf he says: “O Lord, oppressed by your punishment, we cried out in anguish under your chastising.”  Here he may be referring to the Assyrian oppression.

Israel was intended to be “a light for the Gentiles” (see Isaiah 42:6 and 9:2, which are cited in the Gospel) but, “we have not given the spirit of salvation to the earth, no more inhabitants of the world are born”. Jesus will teach us in the Gospel that his followers are also called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  We are to let people see our goodness so that they may be drawn to love and glorify God.  But, by their behaviour, Isaiah says that God’s people failed in this regard.

And we Christians, too, would have to admit to frequent failure. In these days, we are as likely to turn people away from Christ as towards him. It is time for us, as it was for the people that Isaiah addressed, to bring the dead, the spiritually dead, back to life. And then “the land of ghosts will give birth”.

Let us pray that our land be transformed from one of ghosts to one that has and gives life

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