Commentary for the Fifth sunday of lent
Is it possible to fully grasp the depth of despair experienced by the people of Judah in their exile? They experienced all the terror and trauma of war and refugee life. Stripped of possessions, security, independence and hope, they live a stateless existence on the margins of the great power that had conquered them. Then consider the spiritual dimension of their sense of loss. Israel's identity was so closely linked to land and the Davidic line. She looked to Jerusalem and the Temple where the glory of God burned in the midst of the people.
It is not just their future that is in question, they must have questioned the promises of God. Had Adonai proven incapable of protecting them agains this terrible Babylonian Empire? Or worse, had Adonai finally given up on them because of their many sins? And if the latter, how could there ever be hope of knowing the blessing of God ever again?
So Isaiah had critical work to do in reassuring the people of the power of Adonai and convincing them that they might still hope in the Lord. The inspired response to their hopelessness is to remind them of another time when all seemed lost. They were once slaves to the powerful Egyptians. And even in those dire straits, Adonai had reached out and led His people to freedom. The Lord guided the people and provided for their needs in the desert wilderness.
This same Lord will once again deliver His people and bring them back through the wilderness to the Land of Promise. However, this powerful message of hope an deliverance is not a mere reprise of the Exodus events. It surpasses those hopes of physical deliverance from bondage and inheritance of good farmland. Now Isaiah teaches the people to hope for more. Even in their misery, they may trust in the Lord Who will transform the very world around them.
Isaiah has been called "the gospel beforehand," and in this passage we see evidence for this remarkable claim. Isaiah is consoling a bereft people, but he is also looking forward to the day when God's reign will dawn upon the earth.
Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
This communal prayer remembers God's deliverance of His people and offers this experience of divine providence as a basis for hope and joy in the present - even if that present includes suffering or tragedy. It is interesting to note that whereas Isaiah recalls the Exodus experience to promise return from exile - this Psalm remembers the return from exile to offer hope to a later age.
Paul's own journey of discipleship began not with his own insight, but with the dramatic call that he received on the road - as he puts it in this passage, he has "been taken possession of by Christ Jesus."
Before his conversion, Paul believed that the strict observance of the Law would place him in right relationship with God. In his reflection after his conversion, he comes to recognize that the surprising plan of God for the reconciliation of humanity relies on the gift of the Son rather than the gift of the Law.
For Paul, the most important thing is the close relationship between believer and Lord. It is the offering of Christ that is our justification and salvation and therefore the only thing of importance is that we be linked to that one offering.
Paul lives and here proclaims an intimate communion between the disciple and the Lord. To know this Lord is to find the redemptive meaning of suffering and to know the power of resurrection. The believe both dies and rises with Christ. This becomes the basis of the moral life and the content of the disciple's hopes for ultimate deliverance.