Is 42:1-4;6-7 or Is 40:1-5, 8-11; Acts 10:34-38 or Ti 2:11-14; 3:4-7;Lk 3:15-16, 21-22
Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (1st Sunday in Ordinary Time)
I started my teaching career as an English professor, so whenever I see an opportunity to point out the importance of proper punctuation, it’s hard to resist. This week’s first reading (from Isaiah 40) demonstrates the power of a colon: “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!” Notice that Isaiah is not saying that the prophet is coming out of the desert or speaking in the desert. Rather, he is addressing those who dwell in the desert. If you read the verses preceding this week’s gospel reading, you’ll notice that, somewhere between Isaiah and Luke, the colon did some desert wandering of its’ own: “…the Word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert….as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one crying out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord (Lk 2-4).” Now it is the prophet, and not the people, who dwells in the desert.
Why should this be of any concern to you if you do not happen to be an English teacher? What this reinterpretation of Isaiah’s words by Luke suggests to us is the dynamic nature of the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit spoke through both Isaiah and Luke and seems to be less concerned about getting every jot and tittle correct than in tapping into the creativity and insight of the human author so that the Word of God might flourish through the author’s words. Perhaps Luke knew that John had come out of the desert and altered Isaiah’s prophesy slightly in order to help us understand just how important John is to the story of salvation history. Perhaps Luke picked one of a number of variations of the Isaiah prophesy (punctuation and spelling were much more fluid in the ancient world than they are now.) In the end it doesn’t really matter; when we hear either passage, we hear the Spirit speak.
Do we still honor that exciting, creative, dynamic movement of the Spirit in the Church? Have we become so locked into certain ways of thinking and believing, or so slavishly devoted to former ways of expressing our faith as a community that we make it difficult for the Spirit – who is always bringing together the best of the old and the new – to do her work?
As we conclude the Christmas season and enter into a few precious weeks of Ordinary Time before Lent begins this can be a spiritually profitable question to dwell upon both as individuals and as a community.
Jim Philipps (3rdmillenniumpilgrim)
(I am available to assist your parish or faith community as a retreat leader, spiritual director and/or facilitator in adult faith formation courses. You can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)