A central message in the whole book of Isaiah is that God keeps
God’s word. God does not go back on the promises God has made, even
when the people have broken their covenant with God. And that’s what
they did time after time.
List your favorite and most comforting scriptural passages. On
the top of my list would be the one we hear from Isaiah today. It
has the tone of a gentle and loving parent speaking to an injured
or, in this case, a disloyal child. The prophet is delivering the
message to the people who are in Babylonian exile. How did they get
there? They were faithfulness to the covenant with God. Therefore,
they interpreted their exile as a punishment for their disloyalty to
God’s covenant with them. The prophets made it quite clear that they
deserved their punishment. But prophets, like Isaiah, also had words
of encouragement for those in exile waiting for God to come to help
The setting for the passage is the heavenly court. God’s
messengers are assembled before God’s throne waiting to receive a
message for the people. If we were those messengers what would we
expect God to say to the recalcitrant Israelites? Would we have to
tell them on God’s behalf, "You’re getting just what you deserve!"
Or, "Didn’t I warn you not to betray me with your false gods and
alliances with pagan nations?" We tend to say such things to people
who have offended, or let us down. And don’t we feel justified when
But, if we were among God’s messengers awaiting a word for the
people we would be taken aback by what God has to say to them.
"Comfort, give comfort to my people….Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and
proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is
expiated." Wait a minute! Where is the justice in that! Well, it
certainly isn’t human justice, which expects and waits for signs of
repentance and promises to make up what debt we are owe, or are
owed. No, it’s God’s justice. To put another word on it, it’s God’s
mercy – given freely and unearned.
That is the word the messengers are to deliver to the exiles.
God’s servants also have physical work to do. They are to make a
straight road, fill in every valley and level every mountain. Why?
Because God is swiftly coming to help the people and there are to be
no obstacles in God’s way. What will God do when God arrives? God
will lead the people home from exile, back to their own country.
Thus, Isaiah is restating the central theme: God’s word can be
relied on. God will not leave us in exile, or on our own, but is
coming to help us. What is God’s disposition toward us? God is a
loving, caring and protective shepherd who will carry us in loving
arms and lead us home. Bottom line… God has a powerful, mighty arm
with which to help the people. It is raised in victory and then
lowered in tenderness. The passage does not even emphasize the
people’s worthiness, or their sincere prayers. But what is clear is
that, in whatever exile we find ourselves, God will see our need,
take the initiative and will come to help us.
God did keep the promise God made to Israel through Isaiah: the
nation was freed, they returned to their homeland, rebuilt their
nation and their Temple. And what else? God is making the same
promise to any of us who find ourselves held captive in any way by
habit, indifference, discouragement, ignorance, or addiction. As God
acted for Israel, God will act for us with a strong arm to deliver
us from whatever holds us captive and will then lead us home, like a
Isn’t it good news to know how God favors us? We think people
favor us because of our talents, looks, intelligence, or hard work.
That’s true for how we evaluate one another. But God is infinitely
different from us. Doesn’t it cause us surprise and wonder when we
hear that, despite what we have done, or deserve, God looks kindly
on us and is ready to come to our aid.
In our Isaiah reading we are reminded how much God cares and is
concerned for each of us. But not just for us. At our baptism we
were called to be prophets. What kind of prophets and what will our
message be? Prophets announce God’s justice and, it is plain from
today’s reading, when God proclaims justice God is turning a
favorable eye towards us.
In our second reading Peter, who held a special place among
Jesus’ disciples, has stubbornly come to realize that God is
showering favor on the Gentiles. He has arrived at the house of
Cornelius, a Roman centurion, described in Acts as "religious and
God-fearing" (10:1). Peter is there as a messenger of God to confirm
God’s welcome of non-Jews into the Christian community. He has been
sent to confirm God’s love for Cornelius and his household. Peter
shares the vision he has received (10:9 ff) with Cornelius. "In
truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather in every nation
whoever fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to God." There
you have it! The message of God in Isaiah and the confirmation of
that word through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection – God has
shown favor and invited all into God’s household.
Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy: he is the "strong right hand of
the Lord," that has overcome the sin that has caused our exile. He
is also the gentle shepherd who welcomes us into this community – a
people he is leading safely home to our God.
How shall we messengers of God’s word convey that to our
neighbors, classmates, coworkers and the world? We have been
baptized with the same Spirit that descended on Jesus at his
baptism. We know the favor God has shown us. How shall we, empowered
by that same Spirit, shed the light of love, acceptance and
compassion on others?
for a link to this Sunday’s readings: