Sundays readings present us with a rarity: the opening lines of two books of
Scripture. We get to hear both Deutero-Isaiah and Marks introduction to their works.
The evangelist even weaves some of the prophets words into his own prologue, which
is why the third verse of the first reading (Is 40:1-5, 9-11) sounds so familiar: "A
voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of Yahweh!"
The way a sacred author begins his work is important. It tells us a lot about the
problems with which the writer is dealing and how he will address them. No one ever starts
writing in a vacuum, not even our biblical authors. If something werent wrong in the
community, they wouldnt write.
For Deutero-Isaiah, "whats wrong" isnt just the Babylonian Exile:
its also his peoples belief that theyre never going to get out of exile.
Beaten down by almost 50 years of forced separation from the Promised Land, theyve
given up all hope of return.
Then Deutero-Isaiah comes on the scene. This unnamed prophet tells the Israelites that
he represents a God of consolation, a God who is no longer punishing them, a God who wants
them to start building a road through the wilderness separating Babylon from Israel, a God
who demands they notify their families and friends that theyre on the way back home.
Theyre about to take part in a new Exodus!
A great promise, but how can Deutero-Isaiah be certain that all this is going to
happen? His response is simple and to the point: "The mouth of Yahweh has
The prophet believes whatever God says will happen as certainly as God says it. Since
Yahweh says were going home, theres but one thing left to do: "Start
packing!" Gods word is just as effective as Gods actions.
No prophet emphasizes Gods word more than Deutero-Isaiah. It actually provides
the theological foundation for many other biblical introductions. The priestly author of
the Genesis I creation myth, for instance, had a copy of the prophets 16 chapters in
front of him when he described God creating by the force and power of Gods word
alone. And John the Evangelist certainly revolved his Gospels initial concept of
Jesus as Gods "word made flesh" around the insights of his predecessor
from 600 years before.
Even Mark starts his Gospel by referring to John the Baptizer as Deutero-Isaiahs
"voice proclaiming Gods word in the wilderness" (Mk 1:1-8). Yet,
Gods word is more complicated than just a prediction that always comes true.
Its almost never fulfilled in the way people anticipate.
Deutero-Isaiah ran afoul of his communitys expectations by designating an
uncircumcised, pagan king, Cyrus, as the "messiah" who would bring Yahwehs
Chosen People back to their Promised Land.
The biblical John the Baptizer eventually had problems with his own understanding of
the "one more powerful than me who is to come after me
the one whose sandal
straps I am not fit to stoop and untie." Could this person be the unassuming
carpenter from Galilee, or should we be looking for another?
In the same way, the author of II Peter discovers that he must deal in a different way
with Jesus world about His return in the Parousia from the way earlier Christian
authors dealt with it (2 Peter 3:8-14). Since he writes at the beginning of the second
century, he emphasizes the idea that "a thousand years are like a day in the
Lords eyes." In other words, dont expect Jesus to return anytime soon.
Those authors who mention Gods word at the beginning of their writings are, like
Bette Davis, telling their readers to "buckle their seat belts." Its not
only going to be a "bumpy ride," but also the most fascination ride humans can