Isaiah, 4th Monday of Lent
Thus says the Lord Sabaoth: In the way that I have spoken, thus shall it be, and in the way I have planned, thus shall it remain, to destroy the Assyrians on my land and from my mountains, and they will be for trampling down and their yoke shall be taken from them and their glory shall be taken from their shoulders. This is the plan which the Lord has planned against the whole inhabited world, and this is the hand that is uplifted against all the nations. For what the holy God has planned, who will scatter it and will turn away his uplifted hand ? In the year that King Achaz died there came this word. Do not rejoice, all you foreigners, that the yoke of the one who struck you is broken, for from a serpent’’s seed there will come a race of vipers, and their offspring will come forth flying serpents. And the poor will be pastured through him and paupers will rest in peace. But he will destroy your seed by famine and your remnant he will destroy. Howl, gates of cities, and let troubled cities cry out, all the foreigners, because smoke is coming from the North and there is no possibility of being. And what will the kings of the nations answer? That the Lord has founded Sion and through him the humble of the people will be saved.
God is going to take away the “glory…from their [the Assyrians’] shoulders.” This may refer to an attribute of an idol in ancient Mesopotamia which was something like a halo. This is how worldly power presents itself as something sacred, as something idolatrous. This is the demonic aspect of worldly power—to present itself as something with irresistible force and “magic” at its command. God reveals to those who wait and pray, who hope and live in faith that he has a plan and his hand is hidden within the fabric of all the evil things are that are done in this world. The world is his. Mystically, all that is in the world works out his plan even when it fights against him. This is not an easy consolation for us—we sometimes see only the tragedy, we see the “glory” of evil. Evil is undone by itself, and cannot help to bring about its own downfall—it is consumed by its own “serpents.” God is known by those who have cast away the “glory” of evil and know their place in sacrifice to God, as sheep. People sometimes say that sheep are stupid, why does God want his people to be “sheep?” Sheep are an essential sacrifice. They are relatively peaceful. They are ruminants—even if they are not smart, the way they eat their food is an image of wisdom—chewing a long time. And here they are an image of a good sacrifice because they are chewing over the events and the ways of the world, not joining the violence but slowly observing the end of the violent. Here, like sheep “the poor will be pastured.” The poor—those who have chosen nothing but the hand of God to feed them, the hand that blesses, the same hand that strikes down the predator. The “paupers will rest in peace.” Even if it means R.I.P. What is better than perfect rest? We try all our lives, hopefully, to do our best. The best finish is in death: the end of a life that manifests the hand of God; a life where we can say “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God… their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself” (Wisdom 3:1,5) Those who do not get fed by the Lord make their own “famine:” of the heart, of the mind, of hope. If we trust in the glory of the world “there is no possibility of being.” Destruction then reigns. But what in the end is victorious through the poor and the prayerful and those who see beyond the violence and the glory of any age is “that the Lord has founded Sion and through him the humble of the people will be saved.” Zion is the place where we meet God, where we gather in his name, where we know the kingdom which is coming. Where we come under the hand of God which preserves even in troubles, even in death and receive blessing from the same hand which is fearful to our adversaries, our true adversaries that guide the mystery of evil, the forces of darkness and temptation which use the foolishness of human power to claim false glory on earth.