I Lent Friday at the Sixth Hour – Esaias 3: 1 – 14

3:1 Behold now, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, will take away from Jerusalem and from Judea the mighty man and mighty woman, the strength of bread, and the strength of water, 2 the great and mighty man, the warrior and the judge, and the prophet, and the counsellor, and the elder, 3 the captain of fifty also, and the honourable counsellor, and the wise artificer, and the intelligent hearer. 4 And I will make youths their princes, and mockers shall have dominion over them. 5 And the people shall fall, man upon man, and every man upon his neighbor: the child shall insult the elder man, and the base the honourable. 6 For a man shall lay hold of his brother, as one of his father’s household, saying, Thou hast raiment, be thou our ruler, and let my meat be under thee. 7 And he shall answer in that day, and say, I will not be thy ruler; for I have no bread in my house, nor raiment: I will not be the ruler of this people. 8 For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judea has fallen, and their tongues have spoken with iniquity, disobedient as they are towards the Lord. 9 Wherefore now their glory has been brought low, and the shame of their countenance has withstood them, and they have proclaimed their sin as Sodom, and made it manifest. 10 Woe to their soul, for they have devised an evil counsel against themselves, saying against themselves, Let us take away the just one, for he is burdensome to us: therefore shall they eat the fruits of their works. 11 Woe to the transgressor! evils shall happen to him according to the works of his hands. 12 O my people, your exactors strip you, and extortioners rule over you: O my people, they that pronounce you blessed lead you astray, and pervert the path of your feet. 13 But now the Lord will stand up for judgement, and will enter into judgement with his people. 14 The Lord himself shall enter into judgement with the elders of the people, and with their rulers: but why have ye set my vineyard on fire, and why is the spoil of the poor in your houses? 15 Why do ye wrong my people, and shame the face of the poor? 

St. Justin Martyr (+ ca. 165), one of our earliest great apologists for the Christian faith, once engaged in a lively discussion with a Jewish acquaintance who, like Justin, was a trained philosopher as well as a student of the Scriptures.  We possess a transcript of their debate under the title The Dialogue with Trypho.  At one point, St. Justin quotes from today’s reading from Esaias to bring home to Trypho the enormity of the sin of Old Israel in rejecting their Savior:  

The climax of your sin is that you hate the righteous one whom you killed, as well as those who by his grace are godly, righteous, and loving.  It is for this reason that the Lord said, “Woe to their soul, for they have devised an evil counsel against themselves, saying against themselves, ‘Let us take away the just one, for he is burdensome to us.’ ”  Although you did not offer a sacrifice to Baal, like your ancestors, and did not offer cakes in groves and on hills to the heavenly army, you did not accept the Lord’s Christ.  Whoever does not know Christ does not know the will of God.  Whoever rejects and hates him obviously rejects and hates the one that sent him.  Whoever does not have faith in him does not believe the words of the prophets who preached his good news and proclaimed him to all people. Dialogue with Trypho, 136.  

As often occurs in the writings of the Holy Fathers when they explain the meaning of the Scriptures to us, St. Justin’s words give us a theological lesson and a practical lesson as well.   The theological lesson has several main points, which include the following:  

1.  The prophet’s words about the Just One refer to Christ, the Just One Who was “burdensome” to the corrupt leadership of the Old Testament Church, and therefore they “took Him away,” that is, they caused his unjust execution by the secondary agency of the Roman government.  We shall see frequent prophecies of Our Lord’s Passion in the book of St. Esaias, so precise and so detailed that their exact fulfillment in the Gospel Passion narratives is breathtaking. 

2.  That Trypho and his contemporary fellow religionists had repented of the backsliding ways of their Israelite ancestors and were currently not performing pagan sacrifices but were loyal to the Law of Moses was not sufficient for their salvation.   The prophesied Messiah had indeed come and fulfilled the Law; they had to accept Him as their Savior if they wished to be saved.  

3. This principle does not apply only to the Jews, though it applies first of all to them, since “salvation is from the Jews” (Our Lord’s words to the Samaritan Woman in John 4).  It applies to the whole human race, for all of mankind is called to believe in Christ:  St. Justin says, “Whoever rejects and hates him [Christ] rejects and hates the one who sent him.”   In His discourse at the Mystical Supper, Our Lord Himself said as much:  “Whoever hates me, hates my Father also.”  God wills that “…all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2: 4).” 

4. The correct understanding of the prophets can be known only through Christ, who is the only true, exact, and complete exegesis – explanation, revelation, declaration – of who the Father is. (see John 1: 18: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”  The word translated as “declared” is in Greek exegesato – from which we get the technical term “exegesis,” meaning a learned explanation of a text).  

A practical application of St. Justin’s words to our own lives is this:   When we are having doubts about our faith or lagging in our zeal for the faith, we don’t need – probably don’t want – to run to scholarly explanations and intellectual arguments.  We simply need to be confronted, once again, with Who Christ Is.    The simplest way to do this is to open the Gospel, start reading slowly and aloud, with the struggle for attention, and keep reading until the words of the Gospel, which are imbued with self-acting, infinite divine power, will once again captivate us, and once again Christ will stand before us in all His infinite glory, His infinite beauty, and His infinite love, and He will demand of us, “Who do you say that I am?”  With St. Peter,  we will no doubt reply without hesitation: “Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  

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