III Lent Monday – Esaias 8:13 – 9:7

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Thus saith the Lord: Sanctify ye the Lord himself; and he shall be thy fear. 14And if thou shalt trust in him, he shall be to thee for a sanctuary; and ye shall not come against him as against a stumbling-stone, neither as against the falling of a rock: but the houses of Jacob are in a snare, and the dwellers in Jerusalem in a pit. 15 Therefore many among them shall be weak, and fall, and be crushed; and they shall draw nigh, and men shall be taken securely. 16 Then shall those who seal themselves that they may not learn the law be made manifest. 17 And one shall say, I will wait for God, who has turned away his face from the house of Jacob, and I will trust in him. 18 Behold I and the children which God has given me: and they shall be for signs and wonders in the house of Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells in mount Sion. 19 And if they should say to you, Seek those who have in them a divining spirit, and them that speak out of the earth, them that speak vain words, who speak out of their belly: shall not a nation diligently seek to their God? why do they seek to the dead concerning the living? 20 For he has given the law for a help, that they should not speak according to this word, concerning which there are no gifts to give for it. 21 And famine shall come sorely upon you, and it shall come to pass, that when ye shall be hungry, ye shall be grieved, and ye shall speak ill of the prince and your fathers’ ordinances: and they shall look up to heaven above, 22 and they shall look on the earth below, and behold severe distress, and darkness, affliction, and anguish, and darkness so that one cannot see; and he that is in anguish shall not be distressed only for a time.  9:1 Drink this first. Act quickly, O land of Zabulon, land of Nephthalim, and the rest inhabiting the sea-coast, and the land beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 2 O people walking in darkness, behold a great light: ye that dwell in the region and shadow of death, a light shall shine upon you. 3 The multitude of the people which thou hast brought down in thy joy, they shall even rejoice before thee as they that rejoice in harvest, and as they that divide the spoil. 4 Because the yoke that was laid upon them has been taken away, and the rod that was on their neck: for he has broken the rod of the exactors, as in the day of Madiam. 5 For they shall compensate for every garment that has been acquired by deceit, and all raiment with restitution; and they shall be willing, even if they were burnt with fire. 6 For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, whose government is upon his shoulder: and his name is called the Messenger of great counsel: for I will bring peace upon the princes, and health to him. 7 His government shall be great, and of his peace there is no end: it shall be upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to support it with judgement and with righteousness, from henceforth and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform this. 

The first part of today’s reading, chapter eight, verses 13 to the end, depicts once again the near-universal apostasy of Israel, as the great majority of the people seek the truth not from God but from false prophets, mediums, and witches. Yet in their midst there is “one” who does not follow the trend. Remaining faithful to the true God, he says “…I will wait for God, who has turned away his face from the house of Jacob, and I will trust in him. Behold I and the children which God has given me; and they shall be for signs and wonders in the house of Israel, from the Lord of hosts, who dwells in mount Sion.”  The Blessed Jerome reminds us that St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, interprets this “one” to be Christ Himself: 

…the blessed apostle in the letter written to the Hebrews…teaches that this passage ought to be understood with respect to the Lord and Savior.  “That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, ‘I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee (Hebrews 2: 11-12). And again, ‘I will put my trust in him (Hebrews 2:13).’ And again: Here am I, and the children God has given me. Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself also shared in their sufferings (Hebrews 2: 13-14).” How these children became signs and wonders…that same apostle teaches, who said that the Lord and Savior “…chose what is foolish in the world and what is weak that he might shame the wise and strong (I Corinthians 1:27).”  And the Savior said to the apostles:  “Unless you turn and become like a child, uno will not enter into the kingdom of the heavens (Matthew 18:3).”   – Homilies on Isaiah 3.8.1-4

Throughout the Old Testament, there are these lone figures, these unpopular righteous men like Noah and Moses, and Esaias himself, who buck the prevailing fashion of unbelief and corruption, remain faithful to the Lord, and thereby preserve the true belief, true worship, and true morality for future generations.  By their heroic exploits of faithfulness, they not only prepare the way for Christ, but they also become types of Christ, that is, partial and mystical prophetic foreshadowings of the One Who was to come, not only by words but by their lives and deeds. Each one, according the measure of grace given him, can rightly say to God, “Behold I and the children whom Thou hast given me.”  To attain this stature before God, they had to become fools in the eyes of the world.  By becoming strangers to the world, they prefigured that Stranger who had nowhere to lay His head. By becoming like little children, they inherited the kingdom of God. 

The point here is not that we should cultivate being odd for its own sake; this is not virtue but a species of vanity.   Orthodox Christians do not aim at becoming the angry antiheroes of existentialist novels or eccentric dilettantes amusing themselves with the exotic rituals and religious artifacts of bygone ages,  or Live Action Role Players in some kind of ecclesiastical Renaissance fair.   Our faith is not a distraction from real life.  It is real life. If we believe aright and strive to obey the commandments, the world will naturally become foreign to us, and we to the world.  Our becoming outcasts is not the goal; it is a byproduct. Our eyes, after all, are not on ourselves; they are on the Lord.   We go to him “outside the camp” not in order to to distinguish ourselves from the people in the camp, but in order to be with Christ. What the world thinks about us is neither here nor there.  

The second part of today’s reading is, of course, one of the best known prophecies of the coming of Christ, quoted in part by the Holy Evangelist Matthew in the Gospel itself:  

Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. – Matthew 4: 12-17 

St. Matthew is stating that the words of Esaias are now fulfilled in his time, when he saw with his own eyes the true Light, Christ Himself, Who began His public ministry among His own neighbors the Galileans, who inhabited what was once the northern kingdom of Israel, which had become mixed with the pagans after the Assyrian conquest and therefore were a “people which sat in darkness.”  St. Symeon the New Theologian reminds us that we too are sitting in darkness, and that to be enlightened we must choose to look towards the light:   

You must learn and be convinced that those who sit in darkness will see the great light shine if only they look toward it.   Also, though it shone in the past, one should not think that people today cannot see it while they are still in the body.  If it were impossible to see it, why did it shine then, and why does it still shine even when it is not seen?   In fact, the light always existed (John 1:1) and always shone and still shines in those who have been cleansed.  It shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5), and it shines now, and the darkness does not overcome it.  It does not even touch it.”Discourses 34.12 

We have a choice to make:  We can become fascinated by the darkness in the world, even though we hate it, and we can become hypnotized by all the bad news, or we can occupy our minds with the Good News and let the light of Christ shine in our minds continually through the struggle for attention, the remembrance of God, and unceasing prayer.   Through the prayers of the holy prophets and evangelists, our holy fathers like St. Symeon, and all the saints, may we tear our minds away from the darkness and turn towards the true Light daily.  If we dwell in the light which the world cannot overcome – or even touch – the darkness of the world shall never overcome us.   

“Be of good cheer,” saith the Lord.  “I have overcome the world  (John 16:33).”

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