Summary: The prophecies of Isaiah were fulfilled in the mission and work of Jesus--and more than fulfilled.
Monday of the 2nd Week in Advent 2020
Scholars tell us that the Book of Isaiah appears from language and tone to have three parts, written with the words of the prophet, living late in the life of the kingdom of Judea. The first part prophesies the need for repentance in Judea and in the surrounding kingdoms, with dire predictions of what will happen if injustice and false worship continued. It did continue, and the kingdom suffered from the depredation of Egypt and Assyria and Babylon until the latter overwhelmed the defenders of Jerusalem and carted most of the population off to the area we now call Iraq. The second and third parts, written later, speak to Jews who are looking for a restoration and praying that they be returned to their land quickly. Those are the chapters from which we derive today’s Good News.
But there’s more to Isaiah. What he speaks of here, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the crippled leaping and the speechless not just speaking, but singing at the top of their voices, is different. It’s not just a rehashing of the situation they had before the exile. It’s a miraculous time. And it’s a time of divine visitation, with streams springing up in the desert and all of nature put in order. In fact, it looks here a lot like the Garden of Eden, lush, fertile and all working together perfectly.
That did not happen when the Persians conquered Babylon and sent the enslaved people back to their homelands. Not at all. If you read the later historical books and prophets, even after the return there was trouble, morally, politically, personally for the Jews. The era of Persian rule was at least stable politically, but with the rise of Alexander and the Greeks and then the Romans life was certainly no paradise. The prophesies we see here began to look like impossible pies in the sky. By the time of Christ’s birth, the future looked grim.
But then appeared this humble Galilean carpenter, son of a deceased carpenter, Joseph, and his wife, Maria, raised in the nothing village of Nazareth but based in the seaside town of Capernaum. It didn’t take long for the people of Galilee to hear stories of His remarkable speaking ability, His understanding of Torah, and His bringing to reality all the prophecies of Isaiah. When He sat down to teach, probably in disciple Peter’s house that you can still see on the Sea of Tiberias, the crowds overflowed the residence into the streets. These friends we hear about in the Gospel wanted Jesus to heal their paralyzed companion, but they could not get to Him. So they climbed on the roof, pulled off some tiles and then used ropes to lower the man down into the presence of Our Lord. Jesus is the Son of God, so He immediately diagnosed the problem with the man. It’s not hard even if one is not Son of God. The problem is sin. That’s the man’s problem, that’s his companions’ problem, that’s my problem and yours. Original sin, the one we inherit by being human, and actual sin, the kind we commit, every one of us. Sin is the problem.
So Jesus says “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” But, as usual, the poor Pharisees and teachers fall back on their defensive style, ignore the miracles that have established Jesus’s authority, and accuse Him of blasphemy, of taking on Himself a power that only a divine person can exercise. There’s some humor here, because we listeners, whether in the first century or the twenty-first, know that Jesus is a divine person, the very second person of the Trinity. Jesus has set up one of His clever traps. He asks them what is easier to say, “your sins are forgiven” or “get up and walk”? We know what’s easier: saying “your sins are forgiven,” because nothing visible happens. But Jesus says the other now, because it proves that He has authority on earth to forgive sins. And that once poor crippled man instantly comes to his feet, picked up his mat, and goes home glorifying God. Followed immediately by everybody else glorifying God. Probably even the scribes and Pharisees. Awesome.
The early Church saw this as enabling the Church to forgive sin, to act for Jesus to bring to all humans what we really need–forgiveness. So let’s during this season repent for our sins and allow ourselves to be forgiven.