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Lectionary Reflection

Isaiah 49: 13-23


Isaiah 49: 13-23

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.’
Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.
Your builders outdo your destroyers,
and those who laid you waste go away from you.
Lift up your eyes all around and see;
they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, says the Lord,
you shall put all of them on like an ornament,
and like a bride you shall bind them on.

Surely your waste and your desolate places
and your devastated land—
surely now you will be too crowded for your inhabitants,
and those who swallowed you up will be far away.
The children born in the time of your bereavement
will yet say in your hearing:
‘The place is too crowded for me;
make room for me to settle.’
Then you will say in your heart,
‘Who has borne me these?
I was bereaved and barren,
exiled and put away—
so who has reared these?
I was left all alone—
where then have these come from?’

Thus says the Lord God:
I will soon lift up my hand to the nations,
and raise my signal to the peoples;
and they shall bring your sons in their bosom,
and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
Kings shall be your foster-fathers,
and their queens your nursing-mothers.
With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
and lick the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.

Note: This reading is not part of either the Episcopal (Standard) Lectionary or the Revised Common Lectionary. Portions of it are read on Epiphany 4, Year B, and Lent 5, Year C


Reflection on Isaiah 49: 13-23
by John G. Gibbs, PhD

The texts are placed within the context of Godís sovereignty over the cosmic totality.

Isaiah 49:13-23 does not talk about "my personal Lord and Savior." Instead this prophet knows God as sovereign over the nations and the people (49:22). Here is not the God of private individualistic worship, but the God who is proclaimed out there in the wide world of heavens, earth, mountains, suffering ones (49:13). When he thinks of our sons and daughters, he thinks at the same time of the governmental structure under which they will live (49:22-23).

Has God comforted His people? Has God had compassion on them? The mountains, the earth, the heavens know whether God has. For that reason the cosmic totality joins together to sing for joy, exult, and break forth into singing (49:13). In other words, Godís compassion and comfort are objective realities that are known in the external world that surrounds the holy innocents. Godís work for the People of God is not subjective, a mere matter of fleeting feeling. That work exists in the world at large, and there it supports the holy innocents.

Again how unlike our privatistic Protestantism is this prophet! His vision is cosmic in scope. His God is "the God of the whole earth" (Isaiah 54:5). His concern is for real people who experience terror and oppression (54:14). They are the ones who need and receive Godís great compassion and everlasting love (54:7-8).

If we are really concerned about those who "afflicted, storm-tossed, and not comforted," then with prophetic perspective we will look to the social and economic conditions, and to the political structures that all oppress by their being the apparently immovable status quo. What is going on with our elderly, our children, our imprisoned? Not to care is to forsake the God of all comfort, and thus to be discomforted within.

Being a holy innocent does not mean being naïve about power structures and the immoral uses of morality. The task of holiness is, on the other hand, constructive in the literal sense no less than the metaphorical one: "Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back: lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; and your descendants will possess the nations and will settle the desolate towns" (54:2-3).

Mountains and hills are there as constant reminders of a steadfast love that shall never remove from us, and a covenant of Shalom that shall never be removed, or "so says the Lord, who has compassion on you" (54:10). The faith of the holy innocents is not, then, hidden in the Confessional. It echoes from the earth our home around us.

John G. Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attended Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN, when he originally wrote this reflection in 1998. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:

c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

The MEESC assumes that all correspondence received is for publication on this web site. If your comments are not for publication, please so note on your correspondence. The MEESC reserves the right to decide which items are included on the website.


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