Summary: We learn from bitter experience how wrong it is to ignore God's will and do things our own way. If this leads to pain, even the pain can be a way to focus us on the right way.
Thursday of 15th Week in Course
Let’s be frank about today’s reading from Isaiah, because he is speaking about a Hebrew people who did not do God’s will. They chased after what he calls “other lords”–the Baals and Astartes. They engaged in all kinds of injustice, including oppression of the poor, theft of land, unjust wars, and even child sacrifice to the demon Moloch. They heard God’s law and said, “we’d rather go by the traditions of the land and its people.” And so they felt the punishing hand of God, who loved them too much to let them destroy themselves with injustice and idolatry. Here’s the story again: O LORD, oppressed by your punishment, we cried out in anguish under your chastising. 17 As a woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pains, so were we in your presence, O LORD. 18 We conceived and writhed in pain, giving birth to wind; salvation we have not achieved for the earth,
the inhabitants of the world cannot bring it forth.
In other words, all the plans they had made in collusion with these false gods only brought them pain, very much like labor. But, despite the pain and hard work, despite their prayers to those demons, instead of good results, what did they get? I love the humor here: all they got was–the polite phrase is “breaking wind.” Flatulence. Isn’t that how it always is? We know God’s will and God’s law. We think we have an easier or more efficient way to get to what we think is a good objective, but our way is wrong. We do it anyway; we struggle and ache and instead of a good outcome we get nothing, or worse than nothing.
The way of Christ is summarized in the Gospel very simply. We come to Jesus and He bears our burdens. The way of charity and justice seems too difficult for us going in. But, in the end, God’s way is always best, and instead of bearing guilt, our souls are refreshed and strengthened for the next trial.
The popes have just helped us to realize what a gift and opportunity pain can be, if it is pain we experience doing good in faith: Suffering reminds us that faith’s service to the common good is always one of hope — a hope which looks ever ahead in the knowledge that only from God, from the future which comes from the risen Jesus, can our society find solid and lasting foundations. In this sense faith is linked to hope, for even if our dwelling place here below is wasting away, we have an eternal dwelling place which God has already prepared in Christ, in his body (cf. 2 Cor 4:16-5:5). The dynamic of faith, hope and charity (cf. 1 Th 1:3; 1 Cor 13:13) thus leads us to embrace the concerns of all men and women on our journey towards that city “whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10), for “hope does not disappoint” (Rom 5:5).
In union with faith and charity, hope propels us towards a sure future, set against a different horizon with regard to the illusory enticements of the idols of this world yet granting new momentum and strength to our daily lives. Let us refuse to be robbed of hope, or to allow our hope to be dimmed by facile answers and solutions which block our progress, “fragmenting” time and changing it into space. Time is always much greater than space. Space hardens processes, whereas time propels towards the future and encourages us to go forward in hope.