Orthodox Mission – Hyde Park, Chicago

StMaks

Palm Thursday and Friday– Meditations on Isaiah 65&66

Thus says the Lord: As when a grape is found in the cluster, people will say, Do not destroy it; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for the sake of the one that serves me, for that person’s sake I will not destroy them all. And I will lead out the posterity of Jacob and that of Judah, and they shall inherit my holy mountain: and my chosen ones shall inherit it and my servants shall dwell there. And there shall be in the forest folds of flocks, and the valley of Achor will be a resting for herds for my people, who have sought me. But you that have deserted me, and forget my holy mountain, and prepare a table for the devil, and fill up a drink-offering to Fortune, I will hand you over to the sword, you shall all fall by slaughter: for I called you, and you did not obey; I spoke, and you disobeyed; and you did evil in my sight, and chose the things I did not want. Therefore, thus says the Lord: See, those who serve me shall eat, while you shall go hungry. See, those who serve me shall drink, while you shall go thirsty. See, those who serve me shall rejoice, while you shall be ashamed. See, those who serve me shall exult with joy, while you shall cry because of the pain of your heart, and howl from the affliction of your spirit. For you shall leave behind your name for the satisfaction of my chosen ones, but the Lord shall destroy you, while those who serve me shall be called by a new name, which shall be blessed on the earth; for they shall bless the true God.

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We should seek to be the good grape in the cluster, from which all derive a blessing. To achieve the good fruitfulness and sweetness, we must not be affected by the things which spoil others. How? The undying sweetness that comes when we seek and serve the Lord our God, not fall into the distractions of others passions to tempt us or cause us to fall through condemnation of others. We do not “forget my holy mountain;” we climb constantly toward the presence of the Sun of righteousness that nourishes us a plant of paradise. The other way, the way of decline, is to “prepare a table for the devil.” This means to feed all the bad habits and passions: greed, envy, vanity, pride, disobedience, and desire to consume. We feed the devil, because we are consumed with these habits, we are not truly fed, but left hungry. Serving God is eating the true food, a humanity filled and fed by divine life in Christ, fruitful and satisfied through the drinking in of his light. To be a good grape, to be transformed into wine—to “be called by a new name which shall be blessed on the earth”—because our name will partake of the inebriating richness of God’s life-giving power.

Friday Isaiah 66: 10-24

Exult, Jerusalem, and all you that love her keep a festival in her. Rejoice greatly with her, all who now grieve over her, that you may suck, and be satisfied with the breast of her consolation; that you may drink and delight yourselves from the entrance of her glory. For thus says the Lord: See, I turn towards them like a river of peace, and like an overflowing torrent flooding them with the glory of the nations. Their children will be carried on the shoulders and comforted on the knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I too will comfort you; and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. And you will see, and your heart will rejoice, and your bones will spring up like grass; and the hand of the Lord will be known to those who fear him, and he will threaten the disobedient. For, see, the Lord will come like fire, and his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his vengeance with wrath, and his execration with a flame of fire. For with the fire of the Lord all the earth will be judged, and all flesh with his sword. Many will be slain by the Lord. Those who sanctify and purify themselves for the gardens and the porches, and eat swine’s flesh, and abominations, and mice, will perish together, says the Lord. And I know their works and their thoughts. I am going to assemble all the nations and tongues; and they will come, and they will see my glory. And I will leave signs on them, and I will send out those of them that have been saved to the nations, to Tharsis, and Phoud, and Loud, and Mosoch, and to Thobel, and to Greece, and to the isles far away, to those who have not heard my name, nor seen my glory. And they will declare my glory among the nations, and bring your brethren out of all the nations as a gift for the Lord with horses, and chariots, in covered chariots with mules and canopies, to the holy city Jerusalem, said the Lord, righteous as the children of Israel bring their sacrifices to me with psalms into the house of the Lord. And I will take from them priests and Levites for myself, says the Lord. For as the new heaven and the new earth, which I am making, remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your seed and your name last. And from New Moon to New Moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh will come to worship before me in Jerusalem, said the Lord. And they will go out, and see the corpses of the men who have transgressed against me: for their worm will not die, and their fire will not be quenched ; and they will be a spectacle to all flesh.

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God is calling us to the heavenly homeland, the capitol of the kingdom, Jerusalem. There we will be reborn and rejoice in food that is given with no labor on our part, through the Church our mother. She will feed us with the drink that is made within her body, the depth of theology: the understanding of the union of God and the human race. God himself will feed us and raise us. We will be assembled from all nations, to see the Glory of the Lord entering Jerusalem, seated on the foal of an ass, to be king and reign from the cross. We will bring sacrifices to the capitol of the kingdom of heaven: we will offer ourselves, fatted like the fatted calf, on the milk of theology. He is bringing fire because it is the power that completes the sacrifice, causes it to be consumed. We are either burned in the right place, the place of right offering, or in the wrong place, the place of disobedience and opposition to God’s goodness. If we seek God, come like Abraham the Gentile Aramaean, to the place which God leads us to, we will become sacrifices just as the priests and Levites are a tithe among the tribes of Israel, who have no inheritance but God, and are an offering among the people of God, required to draw close to the mystery of his presence. All Christians are anointed with this priesthood through holy Chrism at baptism. We will endure if we make the offering of ourselves, we will be raised in the “new heaven and new earth;” in that offering we will “see  the Glory” of God, his cross and resurrection and the peace with which he breathes the Holy Spirit upon us.

Wednesday of Palm Week, meditation on Isaiah 58: 1-11


Thus says the Lord: Cry aloud, and spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet, and declare to my people their sins, and to the house of Jacob their iniquities. Day by day they seek me, and desire to know my ways; like a people that had done justice, and had not abandoned the judgment of their God, they now ask me for righteous judgment, and desire to draw near to God, saying, Why have we fasted, and you did not see? Humbled our souls, and you did not know? Because, in the days of your fasts you find your wishes, and all those under your power you goad. If you fast for quarrels and fights, and smite the humble with your fists, why do you fast for me as you do today, for your voice to be heard be heard in your cry? I did not choose this fast, nor a day for a person to humble their soul. Even if you bend down your neck like a ring, and spread under you sackcloth and ashes, you shall not because of this call it an acceptable fast. I did not choose such a fast, says the Lord. But untie every bond of iniquity, unfasten the knots of hard bargains, send the bruised away with remission, and cancel every unjust account. Break your bread for the hungry, and lead the poor who have no shelter into your house: if you see someone naked, clothe them, and you are not to disregard the relations of your own seed. Then your light will break forth as the morning, and your healing speedily spring forth: and your justice will go before you, and the glory of God will surround you. Then you will cry, and God will hear you; while you are still speaking he will say, Behold, I am here. If you remove the bond from yourself, and the stretching out of the hands, and murmuring speech; and if you give bread to the hungry from your soul, and satisfy the humbled soul; then your light will spring up in darkness, and your darkness will be as noon-day: and your God will be with you continually.

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While we fast we must ask, just as those who kept the Sabbath: who is under our power? Are we just? Do we rule rightly? Or do we simply make a show and “find our wishes.” Meanwhile, “those under your power you goad.” We make a show, even if just for ourselves. We bind ourselves publicly and bind others privately. We remember evil, unlike Joseph who weeps and forgives his brothers knowing that the evil they did to him was the providence of God. We fast to be free, not bound. We fast to be free of the flesh—only thus can we “break bread for the hungry” and clothe the naked. We don’t do it out of any account we keep, but knowing that only if we are foolishly liberal in our giving of our selves will God overlook our sins and we will see his generosity; we will be like him, and thus able to see his mercy. Isaiah says then we will be like God shining with light, surrounded by the glory of God. Fasting with joy and trying ourselves with love, God will give into our hands the power to free ourselves, not just others, from bonds; we will be able to free others and feed others not just with earthly bread, but “from our soul.”

Monday & Tuesday Palm Week, meditation on Isaiah 48-49

Monday, Isaiah 48: 17-22 & 49: 1-4 Thus says the Lord: who delivered you, the Holy One of Israel: I am your God, I have shown how to find the way by which you should go. And if you had listened to my commandments, your peace would have been like a river, and your justice like the waves of the sea; your progeny would have been like the sand, and offspring of your womb like the dust of the earth; now you would never be cut off or your name destroyed from before me. Go forth from Babylon, as you flee from the Chaldeans; declare this with a shout of joy, let this be heard; proclaim it to the end of the earth; say, “The Lord has delivered his servant Jacob!” And if they thirst, he will bring them through the desert; he will bring water out of the rock for them; the rock will be split open and water will gush out, and my people will drink. There is no joy, says the Lord, for the ungodly. Listen to me, you islands, and attend, you nations. For a long time he will stand, says the Lord. He called my name from my mother’s womb and made my mouth like a sharp sword and hid me in the shadow of his hand; he made me like a chosen arrow, he hid me in his quiver. And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, and in you I will be glorified”. But I said, “I have laboured in vain, I have given my strength for nothing and for futility; therefore, my judgement is from the Lord, and my toil before my God.”

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If God’s people had listened to him; if we listen to him now we would be a whole world in motion, showing the power of the Creator in all things. But rescues us anyway, despite our disobedience, we can still oeby him by fleeing evil, even after it has once captured us. If we do, we can escape in exodus through the desert where God will feed us and quench our thirst. We can proclaim loudly our deliverance by God. He knows from the moment of our conception and raised us as secret weapon for his final victory. Only God can wield us and provide the strength, and effectively complete the work which only he understands he has made us for. This is the incarnation of Christ: he comes to turn his human life, and even death, into a destruction of death and the devil. That sharp sword and that hidden arrow is cross of Christ that we reach after the fast of repentance, when we flee from sin and seek the life that comes as a gift from God, in the resurrection.

Tuesday Isaiah 49: 6-10

Thus says the Lord: I have given you as a covenant for a race, as a light for nations, for you to be as salvation to the end of the earth. Thus says the Lord: who delivered you, the God of Israel, “Sanctify the one who despises his soul, who is abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers. Kings shall see him and arise; rulers, and they shall worship him, because of the Lord; for the Holy One of Israel is faithful, and he chose you”. Thus says the Lord: “In an acceptable time I heard you, in a day of salvation I helped you. And I fashioned you I and gave you as a covenant for nations, to establish the land, to apportion desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out’, to those who are in darkness, “Be revealed.” They shall feed along all the ways, on all the paths shall be their pasture. They shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall smite them, for he who has mercy on them will comfort them, and through springs of water he will lead them.

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God’s servant, Israel, is given as a salvation that provides a covenant of life between God and the nations. This covenant, both “Old” and “New, ” and the servant Israel, is Christ. Jacob wrestles and is even wounded by God as he demands a blessing. God, who refuses to give his own name, gives him a name which is in the end God’s own name, a sign that Israel will see God even in his own wounded flesh, on the Cross.  Israel has served the nations as a small and despised nation, so as to prepare the suffering that is the Cross of Christ, which he mounts to reign over all: “to us who are being saved it is the power of God… that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” God waits until an acceptable time, a carefully prepared time to reveal that the mystery of what he fashions in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ: “We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification.” He is calling the Gentiles—a covenant to the nations in the Church and to the weak, the foolish, the sick, the dying—to “come out” and “be revealed” as the risen body of those who were hungry and thirsty for righteousness, persecuted for the sake of God’s name, but yet receiving mercy and comfort in the end of all, with God who raises the dead and vindicates those who were falsely accused and cast out and oppressed.

Meditation on Thursday and Friday Readings of Isaiah (42&45)

Isaiah 42: 5-16

Thus says the Lord: who made the heaven and fixed it, who established the earth and the things in it and who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who tread it. I the Lord God called you in righteousness and I will take your hand and give you strength and I have given you as a covenant of a race, for a light of nations to open the eyes of the blind to lead out those who have been bound and those who sit on darkness from prison. I am the Lord God, this is my name; I will not give my glory to another nor my virtues to carved idols. See, the things from the beginning have come, and new things, which I am declaring, and which have been shown us before they are declared. Sing to the Lord a new hymn you his dominion ; glorify his Name from the extremity of the earth, you who go down to the sea and sail it, you islands and you who inhabit them. Let the wilderness be glad and its villages, its hamlets and the inhabitants of Kedar. Those who inhabit the rock will rejoice, from the peaks of the mountains they will shout; they will give glory to God, they will declare his virtues to the islands. The Lord God of powers will come forth and crush war, he will rouse zeal and cry out against his enemies with strength. I have kept silent, shall I also keep silent always and forbear? I have endured like a woman in childbirth, I will amaze and wither at the same time. I will make mountains and hills and all their grass wither. I will make rivers into islands and dry up pools. And I will bring the blind by a way that they did not know, and I will make them tread paths of which they had no knowledge. I will turn darkness into light for them and their crooked places into straight. I will do these things and I will not desert them.

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God makes himself known to Israel as an example to all, as an instruction in a miracle. The miracle is the opening of the gates of perception to see God, the one before the beginning of things. The miracle is to know a true name of God, a name that calls all the ends of the earth to rejoicing and  a final peace and strength, to come into his light singing a hymn to the one who gives light and knowledge.

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Friday: Isaiah. 45: 11-17

Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel who made the things that are to come: Ask me about my sons and about my daughters, and about the works of my hands command me. I made the earth and mankind upon it; I with my hand established the heaven, I gave commandment to all the stars. I raised him up with righteousness to be king, and all his ways are upright. He will build my city and turn back the captivity of my people not with ransoms nor with gifts, says the Lord Sabaoth. Thus says the Lord: Egypt has toiled and the merchandise of the Ethiopians, and the Sabeans, lofty men, will pass over to you and will do reverence to you and make their prayer by you; because God is in you and there is no God beside you. For you are God and we did not know, the God of Israel, the Saviour. All those who oppose him will be put to shame and will walk in shame. Keep a feast of dedication to me you islands. Israel is being saved by the Lord with an eternal salvation; they will not be put to shame nor will they be turned back again for ever, says the Lord Almighty.

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In the immediate surrounding context of this reading, Cyrus is mentioned as king (45:1), but here the king is a sign for the coming worship of God by all the nations. While Israel is central because of the God he worships, all nations come to know “there is no God beside you.” All the nations and any heavenly guardian they have is a son or daughter of God: whether it be angels, kings or queens. God made the heavens and every true star shines with his light in the spiritual firmament. God is through Cyrus rebuilding his city. This rebuilding is the image of God’s salvation and splendor. In its midst is the temple which God rebuilds in three days, the body of Christ. For this reason the nations “will do reverence to you and make their prayer beside you; because God is in you.” This salvation is “an eternal salvation” because it is the abiding presence of God among humanity, bringing the light of heaven to earth to set all those in Sheol free and to dedicate the new temple of the humanity which is raised and lifted from shame to an everlasting life.

WEDNESDAY 5TH of Lent Isaiah 41: 4-14

Thus says the Lord: I am first and for what is to come I am. The nations saw and were afraid, the ends of the earth drew near and came together, each one judging to help his neighbour and his brother, and he will say, “The craftsman has become strong and the bronze smith striking with the hammer and forging”. Then he will say, “It is a good join and they have fastened them with nails, they will fix them and they will not be moved”. You are my servant, I have chosen you and I have not abandoned you. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not go astray, for I am your God who gives you strength and I have helped you and made you safe with my righteous right hand. See, all those who oppose you will be put to shame and turned back, for they will be as though they did not exist and all your opponents will perish. You will look for them and not find those who rage like drunkards against you, for those who make war on you will be as though they did not exist and they will not be. Because I am your God who gives might to your right hand and who says to you: Do not be afraid Jacob, Israel few in number. I have helped you, Israel, I the God who rescues you.

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God is there at the beginning. He is before all time, he gives being to all that is. All the nations gather around helping each to form a metal forged thing, to put together arms and armor against the hopes of the poor and weak and oppressed. The powers of war have gathered to press their firm resolve to hammer and nail their power in place. Here God does not abandon us: the very same hammer and nail which attempts to hold God’s people, even all of humanity in place, is the nail that pierces the powerful hand of the Lord that blesses us, and blesses us most powerfully by “trampling down death by death.” This is the right hand that makes us safe, the same one with the hole made by the nails. What is the existence of any power when death can no longer cause fear, when it is no longer a place of despair? God reveals that this lust for power and desire to dominate is all drunkenness. The true sobriety and reason is to find the God that gives life, not the masters of death. “The God who rescues you,” despite your weakness, O Israel (the people who see God), is the one whose blessing hand takes away fear from the jaws of death and Hell: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” …thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1Corinthians 15:55-58) Let us labor in prayer and hope so that we can see Christ showing to us his power and glory from his radiant tomb.

5th Tuesday of Lent, Isaiah 40,18-31, Meditation

TThus says the Lord: “To what have you likened the Lord, and to what likeness have you likened him? Has the craftsman not made an image, or the goldsmith melted gold, gilded it over and made it a likeness? For the craftsman chooses wood that will not rot and wisely seeks how he will set up his image so that it may not be shaken. Will you not know? Will you not hear? Was it not declared to you from the beginning? Have you not known the foundations of the earth? The one who hold fast the circle of the earth and those who dwell on it are like locusts. The one who set up the heaven like a chamber and stretched it out like a tent to dwell in. The one who appoints rulers to rule as nothing, who made the earth as nothing. For they shall not plant, nor shall they sow, nor shall their root take root into the earth. He blew on them and they withered, and a squall will take them like sticks. Now therefore to what have you likened me so that I shall be exalted?” said the Holy One. Lift up your eyes to the height and see, who has displayed all these things? He who brings forth his array by number will call them all by name. From his great glory and by the might of his strength nothing has escaped you. For do not say, Jacob, and why have you spoken, Israel: My way has been concealed from God, and my God has taken away judgement and has departed? And now, have you not known if you have not heard? The eternal God, the God who formed the extremities of the earth, will not hunger nor toil, nor is there any searching of his understanding. He gives strength to the hungry and grief to those who are not suffering. For the young will hunger and youths will toil and the chosen will be without strength. But those who wait on God will renew their strength.

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God cannot be reduced to the things he has made; nor can things he made reduce him to a thing made. He is not exalted by our art. He himself is the artist who has made all things for his dwelling, his tent, his temple. We are small, he is great. He is immortal and we are short-lived and weak. He is not exalted by comparison to anything he has made. He is exalted as the Maker beyond all the things of this world who has made all out of his ineffable care and love. He is not made strong by comparison to the world: he imparts power to those who do not turn impatiently to this world and this life to give them strength, but rather, those who patiently wait on him, who gives and then renews strength. We must wait in patience for God to show himself from beyond the bounds of this world, we look up to him for his glory that surpasses our judgment, our skill, our strength and our knowledge.

5th Monday of Lent Meditation, Isaiah 37: 33-38 & 38: 1-6.

Thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not enter this city, nor shoot an arrow against it, nor come before it with a shield, nor cast up a siege ramp against it. But by the way that he came, by the same he shall return ; and he shall not enter this city. Thus says the Lord: For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David. Then an Angel of the Lord went out and struck down one hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. When morning dawned, they were all dead. Then King Senachereim of Assyria turned and departed and dwelt in Nineve. As he was worshiping in the house of his tutelary god Nasarach, his sons Adramelech and Sarasar struck him down with swords,  and escaped into the land of Armenia. His son Asordan succeeded him. It came to pass at that time that Ezekias became sick and was at the point of death. And the prophet Isaias, son of Amos, came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die. You will not live”. Then Ezekias turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you in truth with a true heart, and have done what is pleasing in your sight”. And Ezekias wept bitterly. Then the word of the Lord came to Isaias: Go and say to Ezekias, “Thus says the Lord, the God of your father David: I have heard your prayer, and I have seen your tears. See, I am adding fifteen years to your time. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria and defend this city”.

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God saves his city. The city is an image of the Church, which is preserved by not just “an angel of the Lord,” the Lord himself, the “Angel of Great Counsel.” But the city and the Church is not saved for the sake of some institutional greatness, but God says it is “for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” David is a human king, and his kingdom a human kingdom, but God is saving David’s kingdom to be the earthly beginning of his rule that overthrows the powers of this world. God is saving the city as the kingdom of God, over which Christ reigns as the divine “Son of Man” that Daniel speaks of: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. “(Dan 7:13-14) Daniel, in his  vision is very “anxious” and “alarmed.” Ezekias (Hezekiah) is also disturbed knowing his life and his kingship will end. He does not fully realize—or perhaps he only begins to realize—that it is the marvel of God’s power, not his power or life that saves the city. He is depressed. Having seen God’s power over life and death, he does not have the faith to face his own death, and he weeps. He repents. So we also are confronted by our weakness, and we learn that it is not our power, our control that gives life. God gives life. He has the power to save the city, the world and fallen citadel of our own life and soul. We must cast ourselves on his mercy in our weakness and failure to believe, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) We must even give over our own “soul,” the things and even the people we love most and ask God for mercy, the mercy that he has shown to the city of the Church, which sees him reigning supreme, the one who suffered with us and, in his resurrection, gave hope to our bitterest tears.

4th Saturday of Lent Mark 7:31-37

Again, departing from the region of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee. Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him. And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly. Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

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Notice how Christ does not wish his works to be seen publicly. God’s work with us is a mystery, something to be treasured within us. The miracle does not need our words, it IS. It is seen, it is heard in us. God creates us, as he does at the beginning. He has only to say and it is. Even though Christ is not called the Word in the Gospel of Mark, he demonstrates that he is the Word which makes, the Word which is “BE” and it is; “Open!” and it is opened. “O Lord open my lips and my mouth will pour forth your praise.” So, we must speak, but not for the sake of running around telling tales to others, but directly turning to God and giving thanks. People will see, but we should have no eyes or ears or mouth to notice, but only for thanking God, without turning away from him in any point of our being. This is how we are opened. When we turn aside, we are closed in by all kinds of vain talk, instead of glorious worship and thanksgiving. Let us be opened to Christ, God with us, our Creator and Redeemer.

4th Friday, Commentary on Isaiah 29: 13-23


Thus says the Lord: This people draws near me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me, and in vain they honour me, teaching the commands and teachings of men. Therefore, behold, I will proceed to remove this people, and I will remove them and I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and conceal the understanding of those who understand. Woe to those who make their counsel deep and not by the Lord. Woe to those who make their counsel in secret, whose deeds are in the dark, and who will say, “Who has seen us? Who will know us, or what we do?” Will you not be reckoned as potter’s clay? Will what is fashioned say to the one who fashions it, “You did not fashion me?” Or the thing made should say to its maker, “You did not make me wisely?” Is it not yet a little while and Lebanon shall be changed like the mountain of Chermel, and Chermel be reckoned as a forest? In that day the deaf will hear the words of a book, and those in darkness and the eyes of the blind in the mist will see. The poor will rejoice with gladness because of the Lord, and those without hope among men will be filled with gladness. The lawless has failed and the proud has perished and those who transgress wickedly have been destroyed and those who make people sin by word, and they will make those who reprove in the gates a stumbling block, because they have unjustly perverted the just. Therefore, thus says the Lord concerning the house of Jacob, whom he set apart out of Abraham, “Jacob will not now be ashamed, nor will Israel change his countenance. But when their children see my works, for my sake they will hallow my name and hallow the Holy One of Jacob and fear the God of Israel”.

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The Lord is against empty words and the self-flattering that can be a downfall of faith—if we get into that, we end up “teaching the commands and teachings of men” and not of God. Our heart has to be close to God.  St. Paul remembers this phrase when speaking of the cross “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and conceal the understanding of those who understand.” We have to perceive God with a wonder that humbly acknowledges our human weakness. “Woe to those who make their counsel deep and not by the Lord.” This means that we have basically piled ourselves under our human bullshit. We should not act as if we can judge ourselves, positively, and do our deeds with only own knowledge of them—God knows, there is no secret: “Woe to those who make their counsel in secret, whose deeds are in the dark, and who will say, “Who has seen us? Who will know us, or what we do?”” We are God’s making, and thus his work and known better by him than we know ourselves “Will you not be reckoned as potter’s clay? Will what is fashioned say to the one who fashions it, “You did not fashion me?” Or the thing made should say to its maker, “You did not make me wisely?”” God is working a change that is beyond our expectation as humans—he is going to transform our perception beyond anything human. He will give perception to those who are cut off from it—miraculous realizations beyond the emptiness, the pride, and the unperceiving and clouded spirit: “In that day the deaf will hear the words of a book, and those in darkness and the eyes of the blind in the mist will see.” A richness of life and a hope beyond human power comes to us: “The poor will rejoice with gladness because of the Lord, and those without hope among men will be filled with gladness.” God is going to take away the “stumbling block” of death and sin. He will take away the perversion of justice that this world thrives on. But God is preparing, in Our Lord Jesus Christ, for Israel’s “children see my works” Christ coming to be the Word that is the creating name of the Lord, will cause the name of “our Father” to be hallowed.” In our calling to draw near to God in holiness, we “hallow the Holy One” and “fear the God of Israel,” the God revealed in our wrestling with the mystery of his work with us. He calls us through the depths of human darkness and ignorance into his mystical darkness, going beyond what we know to enter his enlightening presence, where we gain new eyes and new ears resounding with his holiness.

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4th Thursday of Lent, Isaiah 28,14-22

Thus says the Lord: Hear the word of the Lord, you afflicted24 men and you rulers ofthis people which is in Jerusalem. Because you said, “We have made a covenant with Hell and agreements with Death. If a raging storm passes by, it will not come upon us. We have made falsehood our hope, and we will be sheltered by falsehood”, therefore Thus says the Lord: the Lord. See, I am laying for the foundations of Sion a costly Stone, chosen, a corner-stone, precious for its foundations. And one who believes in it will not be put to shame. And I will set judgement for hope, but my compassion for balances. 25 And those that trust vainly in falsehood, because the storm will not pass you by. And will it not remove your covenant of death? And hope you have in Hell will in no way remain. If a raging storm comes against you, you will be like a pavement for it. When it passes by, it will take you, because morning by morning it will pass by day, and in the night there will be an evil hope. Learn to hear, you the distressed; we cannot fight, while we are too weak for us to be gathered. The will raise you up like a mountain of the ungodly, and he will be in the valley of Gabaon. With fury he will do his works, a work of bitterness. While his wrath will do what is unheard of, and its bitterness will be unheard of. And do rejoice nor let your bonds be strong, because I have heard from the Lord Sabaoth things accomplished and cut short, which he will do over the whole earth.

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What is the covenant with Death? Isaiah says it is “afflicted men and you rulers of this people which is in Jerusalem” that make this covenant. In other words, it is in reaction to affliction and in the vanity of rule and power.  This “covenant with Hell and agreements with Death” is a modus vivendi, a compromise with the evil of this world to exist easily, a deluding fantasy of the optimist: “if a raging storm passes by, it will not come upon us. We have made falsehood our hope, and we will be sheltered by falsehood.” But God prefers a firm foundation not false hopes: “See, I am laying for the foundations of Sion.” In Christ, through his cross.  Also he does not want cheap hopes, but a precious and “costly Stone, chosen, a corner-stone, precious for its foundations.” Of course this is what we see in Christ and his cross: a costly and precious sacrifice and foundation for hope, real hope, “and one who believes in it will not be put to shame.”  He judges as one who really understands our case as humans, suffering under the weight of death; and so gives his “judgement for hope, but my compassion for balances.” Judgment tempered by mercy.  We cannot say that trials and difficulties will not touch us. God is not giving us a crutch for our weakness, but a real sense of the depth of his help and salvation that he gives to us; we have to expect the worst and hope for God as the best: to not be “those that trust vainly in falsehood, because the storm will not pass you by.” We have to leave the “covenant of death.” That is really a “hope… in Hell,” an “evil hope.” Instead we have to listen to the one who speaks to us in the midst of noise and confusion and trouble: “learn to hear, you the distressed; we cannot fight, while we are too weak for us to be gathered.” We need a Savior, not our own seeming strength that deludes us while compromising with the evil of this world. If we covenant with death this way, God will “with fury… do his works, a work of bitterness. While his wrath will do what is unheard of, and its bitterness will be unheard of.” We cannot rejoice in the ease which we purchase with our compromise with this world: neither “rejoice nor let your bonds be strong, because I have heard from the Lord Sabaoth things accomplished and cut short, which he will do over the whole earth.” He will cut down our compromises and our contract with the evil and death of this world, he will come and save those who desire him and who leave aside the “covenant with death:” he will destroy “death by death” through his cross and resurrection. He can bring to our saddest and weakest state as humans his divine power which destroys the one who wished to enslave us through his false power and evil covenant.