You Have Gods Word on It
Fr. Roger Vermalen Karban
The readings for Sunday, July 14, 2002, the Fifteenth Sunday of the Year, are Isaiah 55:10-11, Romans 8:18-23, Matthew 13:1-23.
Some beliefs are woven so deeply into our faith that we presume theyve always been there. They seem to be on a par with God no beginning, no end. Yet Scripture scholars remind us that many of these concepts do have a moment in history in which they came into existence; often they even point to a specific person who brought them into existence. This is certainly the case with our belief in the power of Gods word. The point in history is Israels sixth century, BCE, Babylonian Exile; the person, Deutero-Isaiah.
This anonymous prophet responsible for chapters 40 to 55 of Isaiah was given the almost impossible task of redirecting Israels faith. Jeremiah, his predecessor, had realized that many Jews really didnt have faith in Yahweh. Though they claimed to believe in God, they actually trusted in buildings and religious institutions. Jeremiah longed for the day when both would be destroyed, and the Chosen People would be forced to go one on one with Yahweh. The Babylonians fulfilled the prophets wish in 586, BCE, destroying Jerusalem and carting off many of its residents to Babylon.
Deutero-Isaiah eventually inherited Jeremiahs dream. Prophesying during the Exile, there were no buildings, no religious institutions. There was just Yahweh and Yahwehs people; a people who found it difficult to relate to a God who worked directly in their lives.
Their most pressing problem was getting back to the Promised Land. And its that issue which Deutero-Isaiah first addresses, promising his people that their return was imminent. But when anyone asked the prophet on what he based his certitude, he quickly responded, We have Yahwehs word on it!
His whole ministry revolved around Gods word. His people had no army to get themselves out of captivity. They only had the word of Yahweh.
Its no accident that the prophets disciples who arranged his oracles in the order in which we find them, put todays words in his last chapter. They reinforce Deutero-Isaiahs entire message. Just as from the heavens, Yahweh promises, the rain and snow come down and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful . . .. So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
Like Deutero-Isaiah, all religious reformers depend on the power of Gods word. Jesus did. Its the basis for todays parable. Someone walked up to him one day and pointed out the obvious: almost no one was carrying out the words he was proclaiming. Its then that Jesus reminded the individual that most of the seed Israelite farmers broadcast in their fields was also wasted. But the little which took root produced a crop a hundred times more than what was sown. (Dont worry about the rest of this pericope. The early church eventually allegorized Jesus original parable, giving symbolic meaning to each of its elements, and used it to explain why some were giving up the faith. That wasnt the meaning the historical Jesus intended.)
Without faith in Gods word, Jesus wouldnt have gone more than a few weeks into his public ministry.
Following in Jesus footsteps, Paul reminded the community in Rome of their obligation to trust Gods word. But he uses a birthing image in place of a farming image. I consider the sufferings of the present, he writes, to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us . . . All creation groans and is in agony even until now. We ourselves . . . groan inwardly while we await the redemption of our bodies.
Sine the days of Deutero-Isaiah, the reason Gods followers patiently wait for the things God promises is because they have Gods word that theyll happen. Its the only security they need.