How often has a way forward seemed like a way that leads backward? Take for example the situation of the people of Israel in today’s first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (43:16-21).

Isaiah tells the people of Israel who are in exile in Babylon that God will not only give them a way forward out of a difficult period of suffering in their lives, but God will also give them a way forward which will come as a direct result of their exile. God will not only restore Israel again as a nation, but God will do something new that will surpass the mighty deeds when God freed the Israelites from slavery and death in Egypt. Now God will show them a way forward from the bondage of exile in Babylon. 

Toward the end of the Babylonian, Isaiah looks forward by first looking backward with a message of hope to the people of Israel. “See I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19) The Exile, like the slavery and bondage in Egypt, was a way forward for the people of Israel to be restored back to the land even though it was experienced as if they were going backward. God will give them an even greater way forward than they could imagine. 

The post-Resurrection and Pentecost Church read this passage from Isaiah with greater insight. This way forward is the promise of God given by the Prophet Isaiah, “Thus says the Lord, who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters.” (Isaiah 43:16) The way forward is the promised Messiah, the shepherd who will lead captive Israel back to the Promised Land and reestablish the glory of God’s kingdom. 

The Messiah will suffer and die to bring this about, “remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” (Isaiah 43:18) This new way forward Isaiah speaks of is not simply a way through their suffering by coping with the injustice and unforgiveness of the world, but rather a way forward which makes everything better and new. 

True righteousness as St. Paul speaks about which is a direct way forward comes not from keeping the commands of God’s law as an external precept; true righteousness comes from loving Jesus Christ and giving ourselves completely over to Christ. “I have been taken possession of by Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession.” (Phil 3:8-14) Jesus, in his taking possession of us, has brought to us healing and forgiveness, the true way forward.

After all it was Jesus who bent down to lift up the adulterous woman and show her and all humanity a new way forward. Jesus first looks backward when the adulterous was lying in the dirt as the crowd was readying to stone her to death.

“Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin, be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:1-11) The law provided the right to stone those who were caught in the act of adultery, both male and females alike. That was the look backward to enable them to see a new way forward. When Jesus straightened up, he lifted the adulterous woman up with him.

This is the something new Isaiah was speaking about, a new way forward that is forgiving, merciful and just. Not simply a way through our difficulties, but rather a way forward that lifts us out of our difficulties. The Psalm invites us to sing out in celebration at the mighty deeds of God, “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” (Psalm 126)