Followers of God do lots of waiting. More than anything, we expect God to break into our lives and change the world in which we live. But because each of us daily encounters a unique world, each of us anticipates God's arrival in a unique way. That's why we have so many different biblical concepts of Messiah.

Isaiah, for instance, prophecies to a war-weary community (Is 11: 1-10). The Assyrian army constantly threatens the country, creating a sense of insecurity and helplessness for its people.

Since they're governed by Davidic kings, Isaiah sculpts an image of an idyllic descendent of David's father, Jesse, ruling over an idyllic period of history. This is how the prophet conceives of Yahweh setting foot in his specific history.

Ideals

Notice how every good thing Isaiah predicts is rooted in a change of relationship. The transformation begins with the ideal king's relationship with Yahweh, progresses to his relationship with his people, and even reaches down to the relationship among animals and their relationship with us.

Yahweh eventually sums up the changes by promising, "There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of Yahweh as water covers the sea."

In the Semitic mind, "knowledge" is more than just an intellectual tie-in with someone or something. It presumes one has actually experienced the person or thing one knows. In the case of men and women, "knowing" implies they're been sexually intimate, as when Mary asks the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know man?" In the case of our relationship with God, it implies we're aware of His presence in our midst.

Isaiah believes if and when Jewish kings "know" Yahweh, the whole country will be secure, no matter what happens to its inhabitants.

Matthew's John the Baptizer revolves his message of salvation around that same presence of God (Mt 3: 1-12). "Reform your lives!" he proclaims. "The reign of God is at hand." In other words, "If you change the way you experience reality, you can actually put out your hand and touch God working around you."

But to reach such a life-giving insight, we have to let faith develop into the most important element of our lives. Aware that people often substitute an experience of religion for an experience of God, John warns, "Do not pride yourselves on the claim, `Abraham is our faith.'" No matter how good or "true" our religion, if it doesn't help us cross over into a reforming faith, it's nothing but the "chaff" of our lives.

Harmony

Paul believes that even something as important for faith as Scripture is useless unless we employ it as a help to develop our relations with others (Rom 15: 4-9). If he adopted the Baptizer's style, he'd say, "Don't exchange the hard work of discovering God present in those around you for an ability to throw out a string of `meaningful' Bible quotes."

Following Paul's advice to Rome's Christian community, our life's work is "to live in perfect harmony with one another according to the spirit of Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and voice we may glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Practically speaking, that means we must "accept one another as Christ accepted us, for the glory of God." We must become the servants of people as diverse as Jews were from Gentiles. We're only truly serious about forming a relationship with God when we become serious about forming relationships with individuals completely different from us.

Followers of God do lots of waiting. But in two of Sunday's three readings, they're not waiting for God to start doing something. They're waiting for us to recognize what God's already accomplishing in our lives.

How long will it take to develop the relationships which make that a reality?

(Editor's note: Father Karban's latest pamphlet on discipleship, "People of Faith," has just been published. Write to Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity, PO Box 31, Belleville, IL 62222. Including postage and handling, the cost is $2.50 per copy.)

(12-06-01)