1. Our study of Isaiah the Prophet concludes with this lecture covering chapters 65-66. Throughout Isaiah, we hear warnings against idolatry and the last two chapters are no exception. The Lord pursues the idolatrous Israelites, even when they themselves did not seek after Him. The 10 commandments handed down to Moses begin with a prohibition against any idol that comes before God. The Lord desires our undivided love. The ancient idols of golden statues have been replaced in modern times with the idolatry of self: God has been replaced by power, prestige, materialism, and so on. We see a new phenomenon where marriage and family life are being postponed in favor of individual pursuits. This is contrary to Jesus’ call to lay down our lives for others just as He laid down His life for us.
    Another theme seen throughout Isaiah and repeated here in these final chapters is the theme of the faithful remnant. Using the analogy of a vinedresser sparing a vine with the smallest of grapes, the Lord spares sinful Israel, His chosen vine, for the smallest number of faithful followers, as shown in the story of Lot and his family being spared in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19).
    Isaiah 65 references the plains of Sharon, a fertile stretch of land found in Western Israel. This lush region becomes a metaphoric desert in Isaiah 33 at the hands of Israel’s enemies but then springs into full bloom in Isaiah 35 with the restoration of Israel. We also learn about the Rose of Sharon, a lily native to this region, that is mentioned in the Song of Songs when Solomon’s beloved describes herself to be like this beautiful flower (Songs 2:1). This reminds us of King Solomon who was once single-minded for the Lord, but later in life squandered his wisdom as he accumulated 1000 wives, who he used for not only his own pleasure but for currying political favors.
    Moving on to Isaiah 66:8, Isaiah poses the question: “Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?” This recalls the prophecy found in Zechariah 3 where the Lord predicts that He will “remove the guilt of this land in a single day”, a prophecy that was fulfilled with Christ’s perfect sacrificial atonement for sin on the cross.
    In Isaiah 66:9, the Lord promises that He will bring to completion His perfect plan of salvation, just as pregnancy is brought to completion with the birth of a baby. This recalls the birth of Israel as a nation, which stems from the story of Jacob wrestling an angel in Genesis 32. Although wounded, Jacob survives this encounter and is renamed Israel. The Jewish sages believed this angel was the angel of Esau, and the struggle between Jacob and the angel of Esau continued as the struggle between Israel and Edom. The story of Israel is a series of confrontation with a multitude of nations: Edom, Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Greece, Rome, Nazi Germany, and Islamic terrorists.
    Isaiah 66:7-8, Isaiah describes a woman: “Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she was delivered of a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things” These verses are an apologetic for Mary and her possible painless childbirth of Jesus . Mary is the hinge-pin between the old and new covenants, between old Zion and new Zion. Mary is the New Eve, undoing the curse brought about by the Fall. As a consequence for the first sin, the Lord tells Eve: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children (Gen 3:16).” Born without the stain of original sin, Mary is not subject to the consequences of the Fall, leading many scholars to believe that she was not subject to the curse of pain during childbirth.
    This lecture and our study of Isaiah concludes by focusing on Mary. The old Eve draws Adam into sin as they eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Mary, the new Eve, does the opposite: she helps Jesus follow the will of the Lord, never leaving His side. Unlike Eve who listens to the serpent, Mary crushes his head. She bears the Word of God and brings the Bread of Life to the world. Through the Eucharist, the Marian church feeds us from the Tree of Life her son and our brother.

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  2. The theme of this lecture is the opening verse of Isaiah 60: “Arise! Shine, for your light has come!” The book of Isaiah has been called the 5th Gospel because so many events in the life of Christ are foretold by the prophet. It is no surprise that this chapter is read at the feast of the Epiphany, especially given verse six which describes a multitude of camels bearing gold and frankincense. This same verse also references those from Sheba who will proclaim the praise of the Lord. This brings us to the story of the Queen of Sheba, who came to visit King Solomon (1 Kings 10). She recognized that Solomon’s wisdom and prosperity were a sign of the Lord’s love for Israel. When Jesus lamented that the Israelites of his day failed to listen to his word, he warned that “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! (Mt 12:42)” Israel was failing in its divinely ordained mission to be a light to the whole world.
    The light that came into the world also takes us back to Genesis and the story of Adam and Eve. After their fall from grace, Adam and Eve realized they were naked and, in their shame, they clothe themselves with fig leaves. God, however, gives them a set of clothes in His design made from the skin of animals. God is teaching about animal sacrifice, and how animal blood will temporarily atone for sin. God wants to clothe us with garments of salvation, healing us from the ill effects of sin with the blood of Christ. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed. In the beginning they were in the state of original holiness, fully transparent with nothing to hide. The serpent was the opposite: cunning, crafty and disguising his identity as a snake. Like all snakes, the Evil One sheds his skin, leaving behind a trail of death as he prowls from place to place. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve were luminous in the divine light of God, which reminds of us Moses, whose face was luminous after talking with God. This luminous glory of God was also present at the Transfiguration. We wait with eager expectation when we will see this glorious light, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face (1 Cor 13:12).”
    The lecture continues with the theme of light and a look at Baptism. After being anointed with oil, the newly baptized receives the light of Christ. Lit from the Easter candle, this light symbolically dispels the darkness of sin as the Baptismal rite continues with the renunciation of Satan and his lies. The importance of light is powerfully seen during the Easter Vigil, with the lighting of the Easter cauldron outside the church, followed by the procession of light inside the Church. The light of the Lord reminds us also of the Shroud of Turin, whose image of Christ is thought to be the product of a supernatural burst of intense energy and light.
    We then move on to Isaiah 61:1-2, the same passage in Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21). As he begins his public ministry, Jesus announces that the messianic prophecies of Isaiah are fulfilled. Further on we read in verse 3 how those who mourn will have their ashes exchanged for beauty, a theme that is also found in James 1:12, where we read that those who persevere will “receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” Many times St. Paul used the image of a crown of glory, with a new citizenship in a heavenly kingdom.
    Isaiah 61- 62 is rich with nuptial imagery, where the Lord is the bridegroom who will rejoice over His bride Israel, adorning her with jewels, clothing her with the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness, giving her a new name of delight.
    The lecture continues with a reflection on what it means to be part of the mystical body of Christ. The animal sacrifices in the temple were a temporary atonement for sin. The blood of Christ was the permanent atonement for sin. Unlike Adam and Eve who are covered with the skin of animals, we are covered with the “skin” of Jesus as members of His mystical body: to be in Christ is to have “skin in the game.” The lecture ends with a quote from Theresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”

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  3. The lecture begins with St. Paul’s reminder that we are all members of the mystical body of Christ and we are meant to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice in service to the Lord. According to Evangelii Nuntiandi, the Church exists to evangelize. Each of us has been given particular spiritual gifts that should be used for spreading the Gospel and growing the Kingdom on earth. Some have been given the spiritual gift of teaching, and papal documents such as Verbum Domini have stressed the importance of the lay faithful in proclaiming the Word of God. In particular, Verbum Domini discusses the role of women and their “feminine genius” as they fulfill their indispensable role in the catechesis of the members of the Church.
    Jesus is of course the ultimate teacher and the key to the understanding of all scripture, both New and Old Testaments. To best understand scripture, Catholics are encouraged to read the Bible using both the literal and spiritual senses of scripture. The literal sense of scripture is just that: the actual meaning of the words. The spiritual sense tells us the realities and events of scripture can be signs of spiritual realities. The spiritual sense is further divided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. Through the allegorical sense of scripture, we acquire a more profound understanding of events by their relationship to Christ. Through the moral sense of scripture, events in the Bible were written for our instruction and should lead us to act justly. Using the anagogical sense, we can view realities and events in terms of their eternal, or eschatological significance. Individuals and denominations that use only the literal sense of scripture are known as Fundamentalists and recently Pope Francis has spoke out against fundamentalism in all religions and denominations. Pope Benedict has encouraged us to use a canonical approach to scripture study, looking at the entire content of scripture as interpreted in the living Tradition of the Church, paying particular attention to the analogy of faith.
    Returning to the text of Isaiah 57, the prophet warns against “backsliding” which reminds us that our salvation is at risk if we abandon the Lord and His statutes. Isaiah 58 is the foundation for the corporal works of mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and prisoners, bury the dead and give alms to the poor). In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus warns that our salvation is at risk if we ignore these works of mercy and James goes further to say, “For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (James 2:26).”
    The authors of the New Testament books make many connections with Isaiah and the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 is a particularly powerful example. At the request of the eunuch, Philip explains the meaning of Isaiah 53, the suffering servant. Going a bit further in Isaiah 56, we read of the promise of salvation for a faithful eunuch. This message of consolation is especially important when we understand that eunuchs were excluded from the assembly of the Lord (Dt 23:1). The Ethiopian eunuch sees the fulfillment of Isaiah 53 in the death and resurrection of Christ and he also reads that he is no longer excluded from worship. No wonder he immediately asks to be baptized by Philip!
    The lecture concludes with the prophecy of Isaiah 59: 16-17: “Then his own arm brought about the victory, and his justice sustained him. He put on justice as his breastplate, victory as a helmet on his head.” This is a reminder that although Jesus won the victory over death, our own cosmic battle against the forces of evil continues, and we need to put on the armor of God: “So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph 6:14-17)”

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  4. The theme of this lecture is “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” We begin by looking in detail at the first four verses of Isaiah 54, which Paul quotes verbatim in Galatians 4: 21-31, “The Allegory of Hagar and Sarah.” Why does Paul quote this particular passage? Recall that prior to his conversion, Paul (then Saul) was zealous for the Hebrew laws, persecuting the early Christian Church. After his conversion, Paul remained zealous, but now his impassioned personality was used in service to Christ. Other zealous followers of the Lord who may have inspired Paul can be found in scripture. In Numbers 25, we read of the story of Phin′ehas, who killed an Israelite man and a Midianite woman, a follower of the pagan god Baal of Pe’or, for their blatant refusal to avoid harlotry with daughters of Moab. As a result of Phin’ehas’s pure hearted zeal, the Lord withheld his plague form the Israelites and rewarded Phin’ehas and his descendants with perpetual covenant of peace and perpetual priesthood. Phin’ehas is a template for the priesthood: priests should be zealously single-minded for the Lord and they make atonement for sin on behalf of the people.
    Other zealous men in scripture include Mattathias (1 Maccabees 2) who killed an apostate Jew and a Greek officer who were offering sacrifice to a pagan god on the altar of the Jerusalem temple. Elijah the prophet was also zealous for the Lord and his commands. He challenged the priests of Baal to call down fire upon their sacrifice to the pagan god. When they failed, Elijah called upon the Lord who rained fire upon his sacrifice, which consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench (1 Kings 18). Elijah then executed 400 prophets of Baal. To avoid the wrath of Queen Jezebel, Elijah fled to Horeb in Arabia, the same location where Moses went after killing an Egyptian and the same location where Paul went for three years after his conversion, presumably to immerse himself in the Hebrew scriptures, discovering their fulfillment in Christ.
    With this background in mind, we can better understand why in Galatians 4 Paul quoted Isaiah 54. The two women, Sarah and Hagar, are an allegory for the two covenants. Hagar, the slave woman, corresponds to first century Jerusalem, whose inhabitants remained in their bondage to sin by their rejection of Jesus, the Messiah. Sarah, the free woman, represents the new and heavenly Jerusalem, where the believing Jews and gentiles are set free from the constraints of the old covenant. Those born of the flesh (the non-believing Jews represented by Hagar) persecuted those born of the Spirit (the believing Jews represented by Sarah). Like Sarah, the Christians appear to be desolate and barren. But through the power of the Spirit, Sarah gives birth to Isaac and Abraham’s tribe flourishes. In a similar way, the seemingly desolate early Christians eventually prosper with their descendants spreading throughout the entire world as Isaiah 54:2 instructs: “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; hold not back, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.” Abraham’s tent will be enlarged as the Christians were folded in.
    The lecture then moves to another analogy: the nuptial relationship between the Lord and His people. The Lord first married the Israelites at Mt. Sinai and His wedding gift was the law and the ten commandments. Despite Israel’s pattern of falling into idolatry, the Lord remained faithful, never divorcing Israel despite her repeated infidelities. We learn of the indissolubility of marriage in Matthew 19: only through death is a spouse free to marry another. So how could the marriage between God and Israel end? Through the death of God, in the person of Jesus, Israel became a widow and the old covenant came to an end. However, a new marital covenant was immediately established between God and His bride, the Church. God’s wedding gift to His new mystical bride was the Holy Spirit and the Law of Love.
    The lecture then concludes with a reading of the beautifully poetic verses of Isaiah 55, where we hear of the Lord’s promise of comfort, mercy and steadfast loyalty, words which are echoed in today’s theme: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

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