Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Isaiah 65: 17-21
The people of Judah once had a way of life they thought was like a paradise. But now it was lost. The Babylonians had swept down upon them, slaughtered many of their loved ones and friends, carried off the youngest and the best into a foreign land. Judah was crushed, Jerusalem demolished, the Temple destroyed. The world they had known and loved was lost.
Eventually they were allowed to return, but things were not the same as they had been before. For half a century they worked to restore the Holy City to its former splendor, but they found themselves still living in the despair that comes when life is not — and seemingly never will be — the same as it once was.
They rebuilt the temple. But it was a shabby building. They had done their best to build God a decent house, but admittedly, it wasn’t much. At least it’s not what it used to be. The walls surrounding the city still lay in rubble, and their hearts and spirits felt the same.
It seems that life is always having to be rebuilt. But it’s never the same. Just ask the people of Judah.
Yet, it is in the midst of this despair, that God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, offers his people words of hope: "Pay attention now," He tells them. "I’m creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos and pain are things of the past, will be forgotten. Look ahead with joy! I will create Jerusalem as sheer joy. No more sounds of weeping in the city, no cries of anguish; no more babies dying in the cradle, or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime."
How often have we felt like the people of Judah — when tragedy or crippling illness swept down on our lives, leaving behind only rubble. We try to rebuild; but, of course, it can never be the same.
It is precisely in these moments, when God breaks into our lives and speaks to us words of hope: Pay attention now, God says to us. Look ahead with joy to the new life Jesus came to create for us. That chaos and pain? They’re things of the past. Old people will live long lives; no more babies dying prematurely. Pay attention to what Jesus said to the royal official in Capernaum, and just as surely he says to you today: "Go home. Your child lives." Isaiah’s prophesy of hope has been fulfilled in Jesus. Today’s Psalm 30 underscores it: "I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me."
As we continue our Lenten journey, we are reminded that we have a choice. We can pine for the good old days that will never return, or we can in faith consider the possibility that God has something new in store for us, new life — if only we will pay attention now!
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.