September 19, 1999, 25th Sunday: Isaiah 55:6-9


MY THOUGHTS ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS AND MY WAYS ARE NOT YOUR WAYS(Isaiah 55: 6). Rightly to understand these words we do well to recall they were addressed to people who had been living in exile for some years. They knew the misery, anxieties and sadness of refugees. Humiliated, impoverished, they had been driven forcibly from their homes and homeland, they lived among foreigners in a culture that was strange to them. They did not have access to their temple so as properly to celebrate the important feasts of the year. To make matters worse they realized it was their own sins that had brought such heavy consequences upon them and their loved ones. To these members of God's chosen people their most eloquent of prophets proclaimed a ringing message of hope and encouragement.

The words I have cited are taken from the middle of that remarkable proclamation which serves, in the Bible, as the conclusion of the Book of Second Isaiah. They serve to remind us, as they did these unfortunate Jews of the sixth century B.C. that God is not to be measured by our human ways of thinking. He has plans and purposes that transcend our experience and our manner of viewing and judging affairs. All along, throughout the painful vicissitudes of defeat and banishment, His purpose has been at work for good. He is truly good in a way that surpasses our fathoming. Even in apparent evils He intends the good of those who suffer and not only for the benefit of future generations. With God nothing can prevent the happy realization of his plans provided that we turn to Him with faith and trust. That is the meaning of this text. It still has a particular relevance to us who have accepted Christ as the fulfillment of prophecy. This entire chapter of Isaiah is a call to repentance and conversion; more, it is an invitation to take on a new manner of thinking and living, to be reformed according to the mind of Christ, who has paid the price for our spiritual nourishment.

All you who are thirsty come to the waters. You who have no money, come buy grain and eat.... Seek Him while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.

God is near; in fact, He is seeking us to stir up our desire for Him, for He wants us to find Him, as the prophet implies. If His plans include our suffering for a time, it is that we might be trained in the art of listening to His words and recognizing them as healing where we are sick and strengthening us where we are weak. We Christians have the teaching and example of God's beloved Son whom He sent into this world to redeem us through suffering, to train us to life through his acceptance of death. In Jesus are the concluding words of this prophetic encouragement fully realized. He is the Word that can achieve whatever the Father sent him to effect, and for those who hear him that word will not fall to the ground fruitless, but bring forth a harvest for eternity.

In truth the words that go forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty; rather, they shall effect what I please and accomplish that for which I sent them. For you shall go forth in joy, and in peace you shall be led.

This joy and peace that are to accompany us once we turn to God in trust has been won for us the Word of God made flesh, who now lives in glory with the Father. He comes to us in this Eucharist for the same purpose that the prophet Isaiah spoke his message to the exiles: to give us new life filled with a hope based on trust in God's love. In this glorified Lord who comes within us in the Eucharist, we have a firmer foundation for our confidence and a far greater stimulus to love than even the prophet's words brought to the exiles. Let us stir up our faith in earnest and seek Him while He can be found and call upon him from the heart while he is near.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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Abbey of the Genesee

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