Commentary on Reading from Isaiah, 3rd Tuesday of Lent
Thus says the Lord: All the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.” So the LORD raises adversaries against them, and stirs up their enemies. The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still. The people did not turn to him who smote them, nor seek the LORD of hosts. So the LORD cut off from Israel head and tail, palm branch and reed in one day — the elder and honored man is the head, and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail; for those who lead this people lead them astray, and those who are led by them are swallowed up. Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men, and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows; for every one is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still. For wickedness burns like a fire, it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke. Through the wrath of the LORD of hosts the land is burned, and the people are like fuel for the fire; no man spares his brother. They snatch on the right, but are still hungry, and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied; each devours his neighbor’s flesh, Manasseh Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh, and together they are against Judah. For all this his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still. Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the storm which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth? Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away and his hand is stretched out still.
In the reading for the 6th Hour on Tuesday of the 3rd week of Lent, the prophet Isaiah tries to prevent the future destruction of the Kingdom of Judah and its capital Jerusalem, by reminding the people of the experience of Samaria. Isaiah depicts terrifying images of Assyrian siege warfare. He attributes the suffering and destruction to the Lord. It is His upraised hand and the day of His visitation. The reason for this visitation is that the people—“turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey!”
This notion of “visitation” also appears in the Gospel of St. Luke. During Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke his disciples who praise our Lord as the Davidic king. Christ tells them that even if the disciples were silent, the stones would cry out and then he weeps over Jerusalem saying:
“Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.” (Luk 19:42-44)
The gospel narrative teaches us something about God’s judgment in Isaiah’s prophecy. The disciples, “rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” But some among the people are scandalized and do not know the time of their visitation. The things that make for peace are concealed from their eyes. They don’t know about the peace in heaven, because they have declared war on the will of God like the Samarians in Isaiah’s prophecy who impede God’s will. God’s “upraised” hand is meant for blessing, but for those who obstruct with “iniquitous decrees” to “turn aside the needy from justice” (Isa. 10:1), the same upraised hand for blessing will punish those who obstruct His will. In other words, God’s hand is just for blessing, but if you get in the way of His blessing and His love, you experience punishment. The Pharisees in the Gospel of Luke, also reject God’s “mighty works” for which the disciples “praise God with a loud voice.” Hence, Christ’s response contains similar warfare imagery that we see in the reading from the prophecy of Isaiah.
Notice that the prophecy of Isaiah has special concern for the widow and orphan. Christ the Bridegroom and Christ the Son of God, expresses in Himself, the relationship between God and those who need him. Instead of sending Assyrians as His instrument of punishment, Christ Himself takes on the suffering that is caused by the obstruction of God’s blessing. He takes away the obstacle in Himself by ascending the cross.