Almost every day, we ask someone, “How are you?” I suspect most often they quickly respond: “I’m good,” or “I’m fine,” or perhaps even, “I’m great!” I don’t want to be a sourpuss, but occasionally I wish they’d answer: “Well, I’m a little desolate today,” or “If you really want to know, I’m missing a few pieces of happiness,” or, even better, “I certainly feel the need to be redeemed!” Not only would such unexpected proclamations get our attention, but they are also much more appropriate for this season of Lent. Lenten people don’t go around shouting, “All’s well with me!” Rather, they gladly acknowledge, “I need to be healed. I want to be restored.”
Today’s reading from Isaiah is an exultant declaration of God’s undying love for us and fervent desire to help us. Its joyous life-saving message is that God wants to heal, restore, liberate, and gently draw us back to life; but God’s extravagant blessings can only go as far as our confession of need. The passage overflows with images of restoration and redemption. Through the prophet, God declares this “the day of salvation.” God speaks of wanting to guide us to pastures where we shall neither “hunger nor thirst” and lead us to “springs of water” where we will forever be renewed. Isaiah tells us that God, like all good lovers, wants to comfort and care for us; heal every hurt and wounded place of our lives; free us from all that burdens and oppresses us; and do whatever is necessary to make us whole. Isaiah depicts a God eager to help and anxious to save. But God cannot do much for people who masquerade at wholeness and tiresomely pretend that all is well.
Lent is a time to be redeemed (really, every day is), but if all is well with us, there is little for a loving redeemer to do. That’s why the next time somebody asks, “How are you?” we should jubilantly respond, “I could certainly use a little salvation today!” If we do, the prophet guarantees us that amazing things will happen.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the Passionist Family.