First Reading: Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 Responsorial: Psalm 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14 Second Reading: 2 Peter 3:8-14 Gospel: Mark 1:1-8
The Power of Hope by Bishop Richard Henning
What would it be like to play a game if somehow you knew from the start that you would lose? Perhaps you might agree to play for diversion or companionship. But would you really invest yourself? Would you take chances or play your best? For a game to be truly exciting and engaging we need some hope that we might win. Only then will we strive for the goal and test the limits of our capacity and endurance.
The first reading this Sunday comes from the central portion of the Book of Isaiah. This section of the Book, usually called “Second Isaiah,” is a masterwork of hope. Long ago, his words were meant to enliven a people who had come at last to the end of a long exile. Isaiah must have understood that many of them had given up hope- that they were exhausted and incapable of the journey home. He speaks to them in rich images of God’s tender care for them and the good news of their deliverance. Filled with joy and hope, their journey will not be drudgery, but an easy road, straight and clear. Jerusalem will look out from her towers and thrill to the sight of her people free again. And all will see the hand of the Lord who leads them and cares for them with the tenderness of the good shepherd. Fittingly, the Responsorial Psalm continues the sense of exultant joy and hope in the Lord.
The second reading is taken from the Second Letter of Peter. The Letter addresses Christians at a time when some Christians and/or their opponents raised questions about return of the Lord Jesus. The earliest Christians seemed to expect that return to be immediate and the second and third generation wondered at the apparent delay. The Letter responds to these questions by reminding its readers that the Lord had not been specific about timing- on the contrary they were not to know the day or the hour. Second Peter sees in the unfolding of events God’s patience with his people and his merciful desire to give time for people to respond. The Letter also reminds Christians that the Day of Lord will come indeed and that they should live worthy lives in the meanwhile. Fundamentally, the Letter reminds them and us that we look forward in hope to a different world- a new heaven and a new earth. This hope animates us to invest ourselves fully in the living of our Christian life.
The Gospel passage comes from the first chapter of Mark. With no story of Jesus’ birth, Mark goes immediately to the heart of the matter. In verse 1, he announces without preamble that this is the story of “Jesus Christ the Son of God.” Only one matter precedes the start of Jesus’ ministry: that of John the Baptist’s witness to Jesus. Even here there is little in the way of introduction as Mark emphasizes John’s role as part of God’s plan and summarizes his ministry. The passage also makes it clear that John’s ministry is not an end in itself, but testimony to Jesus. John is a bridge between Israel’s past and the fulfillment of its hopes. John is in the wilderness, dressed as, and eating like, ancient Israel on its foundational journey from slavery to freedom. His words recall the prophets of old. At the same time, he looks forward to the moment at hand and the events that are about to unfold. John is a figure of hope. He looks for something, someone greater than himself. While John’s own ministry will end in a tragic execution, he has become part of a larger story and will share in the victory of the one whose sandals he is not worthy to untie.
God’s people are never without hope. We have experienced God’s power to deliver us. We perceive that same power of God active in our midst and we journey forward in hope that God has and will triumph. In that hope we find the power to seek and to do the good. Hope empowers us to do more than merely await the new heaven and the new earth promised by the Lord. It empowers us to hasten that moment by playing our role in the service of the one whose sandals we are not worthy to untie.