A short reading this week, which is good since I'm even later than usual with this blog post. Sorry about that!
As we move into the second half of Lent, we wrap up the Book of Isaiah with the last seven chapters. "Arise, shine, for your light has come" - what a marvelous beginning to our reading, and a marvelous sentiment to hang onto with Easter on the horizon. Some of ancient Israel's most beautiful and celebratory poetry is found in these chapters.
The Persian Empire conquered the Babylonian Empire in 538 BCE and Cyrus, the emperor, allowed the Jewish people to return to Israel that same year. Our chapters in Isaiah last week anticipated that development, with Isaiah most famously proclaiming, "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God." That road was both metaphorical - a call to the people to return to God's way, God's path - and literal: let's build a highway home! Now those hopes have been fulfilled, the people have gone home, and Isaiah in these last chapters sings out with joy, calling Israel to a new degree of social justice ("he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor"), declaring the wondrous role of Jerusalem as a beacon of hope and faith, and warning the people not to forsake the God who has restored them to favor.
This is a set of lovely and moving passages; note that the section from chapter 61 quoted just above is the role that Jesus claims for himself the first time he preaches in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-23). Enjoy!