Thursday, March 15 (O.S., March 2), 2018: Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent; Icon of the Mother of God ‘She who Reigns’ (1917); Hieromartyr Theodotus, Bishop of Cyrenia († c. 326); St. Arsenius the Bishop of Tver († 1409); Martyr Euthalia of Sicily († 257); Martyr Troadius of Neocæsarea (3rd C); Venerable Agathon of Egypt (5th C); 440 Martyrs slain by the Lombards in Sicily († 579); Venerable Sabbas, Barsonuphius, Sabbatius, and Euphrosinus of Tver.
Contracts are essential not only to civil society but also our life in Christ. In Jesus Christ, God makes a covenant–a contract–with us. At baptism, God incorporates us into His Body the Church. He seals this new relationship in chrismation; in Holy Communion, we receive a foretaste of the life to come.
The other sacraments build on this baptismal covenant.
Each sacrament renews and strengthens the promise that binds God to us and us to God and each other. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the sacred contract between God and His People is the archetype for all other civil contracts. God’s covenant with His People is the standard against which all other contracts and promises we make between ourselves are judged.
All of this helps us understand the horror that opens today’s reading from Isaiah.
The rulers of Jerusalem made a contract, “a covenant with death.” Rather than looking to God for their salvation. They make a contract with (Hades or Hell), so that “when the overwhelming scourge passes through it will not come to us.”
As the next few verses make clear, this covenant with death is made of “lies” and “falsehood.” In effect, the rulers made a self-defeating promise that undermines even the possibility of fidelity.
God in His mercy annuls the agreement with death.
In the short-term, this means that the people will be overwhelmed with scourges; they “will be beaten down” by them. This is a severe mercy. The severity doesn’t reflect any “divine” malice but how far morally and spiritually the people have strayed from God. The way back to God and to their own vocations is far, the journey arduous.
The journey back to communion with God is long because the people have become not just strangers to Him but the enemies of the justice and righteousness with which God builds His Kingdom.Once again, humanity has come to the plains of Babel.
Like men we read about in Genesis, the rulers of Jerusalem have conspired with death to frustrate the will of God. The fact that this is impossible and self-defeating doesn’t factor into the decision either at Babel or Jerusalem. Against all the evidence of God’s goodness and patience, they are hell-bent on asserting their own will over the will of God.
Isaiah’s warning to Jerusalem and the divisions in the human family that result from Babel are all still applicable today. We are all of us just as prone to make false promises in a vain attempt to subvert the will of God.
Solomon reminds us–reminds me–that “Wisdom builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down. He who walks in uprightness fears the LORD, but he who is devious in his ways despises him.” It is folly to despise God and to seek to overturn His will for me. Instead, it is in my best interest to discern the will of God and pursue it to the best of my abilities. “A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.”