Here we come to the 36th day of our Lenten journey, God bless you as you travel the path to the Cross and to our Lord’s resurrection. Our reading from scripture is Isaiah 48:17-49:4
Thus saith the Lord that delivered thee, the Holy One of Israel; I am thy God, I have shown thee how thou shouldest find the way wherein thou shouldest walk. 18 And if thou hadst hearkened to my commandments, then would thy peace have been like a river, and thy righteousness as a wave of the sea. 19 Thy seed also would have been as the sand, and the offspring of thy belly as the dust of the ground: neither now shalt thou by any means be utterly destroyed, neither shall thy name perish before me.
20 Go forth of Babylon, thou that fleest from the Chaldeans: utter aloud a voice of joy, and let this be made known, proclaim it to the end of the earth; say ye, The Lord hath delivered his servant Jacob. 21 And if they shall thirst, he shall lead them through the desert; he shall bring forth water to them out of the rock: the rock shall be cloven, and the water shall flow forth, and my people shall drink. 22 There is no joy, saith the Lord, to the ungodly. Listen to me, O coastlands, and hearken, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified." But I said, "I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.”
Hearken to me, ye islands; and attend, ye Gentiles; after a long time it shall come to pass, saith the Lord: from my mother's womb he has called my name: 2 and he has made my mouth as a sharp sword, and he has hid me under the shadow of his hand; he has made me as a choice shaft, and he has hid me in his quiver; 3 and said to me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, and in thee I will be glorified. 4 Then I said, I have labored in vain, I have given my strength for vanity and for nothing: therefore is my judgment with the Lord, and my labor before my God.
The Church fathers have much to say about the line that begins chapter 49: “Hearken to me, ye islands; and attend, ye Gentiles; after a long time it shall come to pass, saith the Lord.” They interpret the islands as the Church, since it is a small bit of faith and reason surrounded by a sea of faithlessness, bitterness, and sin. Isaiah tells the islands to listen to the Lord, and then he includes the Gentiles as well - “attend, ye Gentiles.” That is to say, the Church is to listen to the voice of God, but the people who are not a part of the Church (here called the Gentiles) are called to listen as well, because salvation is proclaimed there. Isaiah said, "after a long time it shall come to pass,” that is, the revelation of the mysteries of Christ are not simple and confined to only one time period, but they pertain to every people and to every age.
What does this mean for us? For ourselves, those of us living on the island which is the Church, we can never allow ourselves to think that we’ve learned everything we need to be followers after God. No matter how much we know, how many good deeds we do, how pure is our prayer, there is always more that lies beyond. The Christian life is a lifelong pursuit. And for those outside the Church, the “Gentiles” as Isaiah says, the Church must always offer itself as an ark, as an island in the midst of a stormy and unpredictable world. Go to your work, and go to the store, and drive down the street: everywhere you see people who are searching for the truth. They are drowning - would we not offer them hope?