There has been a lot of attention over the last four years concerning the power of words. There has been the rise of the expression “fake news” and perhaps more attention than ever paid not only to what people say, but also what we think they mean. We seem to be more likely to get our information from a particular source, and to trust this source over another. And it can feel at times that we live in parallel worlds where we do not all experience the same things.
One motto of the Dominican Order is Veritas, the Latin word for Truth. What is interesting, however, is that when we speak of Truth as Dominicans, as members of the Order of Preachers, we are not first referring to words. Rather, we are always and everywhere referring first to a person, Jesus. Jesus tells us in the gospel of John that his is the way, the truth and the life. Our decisions about what is true, then, must always be made in consideration of the personal relationship we have we Jesus.
This is an important consideration because not only is Jesus the Truth, but he is also the Word. And as the word, Jesus can never be fake news. And this is the backdrop to understand today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah. As is often the case, sometimes we substitute the ways human beings think for the ways that God thinks. And throughout the bible we see the consequences of this type of error.
And so how might we understand this reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah? As can often be the case with a short reading we have for Mass, to understand what we hear today we need to look at what happens before. In the two verses before we read that there is a tremendous difference between God and us. Now this may seem obvious but how often is it we do not recall this fundamental truth? How often is it we think that we know better than God?
We see this over and over again in the bible. This way of thinking began with Adam and Eve. Tempted by the serpent, they could be convinced that they knew better than God. Of course, God did not really mean what he said about this tree. We can use our reason to become smarter than God. It looks good for eating. It seems desirable for gaining wisdom. God simply did not consider these things.
But alas! When we think this way, we miss the very important truth about God and about us. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” God is so far beyond us we really cannot even imagine it.
I remember when there was eclipse visible across much of the United States. I learned the meaning of the “zone of totality” when described that area where the moon would block out all of the sun except for the corona, the rays of the sun only visible when the moon covered it. And I further learned that where I worked was in the zone of totality, and so I was able to see, for almost 90 seconds, the corona of the sun. It was awesome. One thing I remembered about the experience was how small I felt. Suddenly I realized the universe was so far beyond me. It was so awesome, in the literal meaning of the word. I was in awe.
What it caused me to consider, though, was not just the universe, or its awesome size, or how small I was in comparison. It made me think of God. If I was so overwhelmed by this experience of the universe, how much more overwhelming was God himself? It is only in this sense that we can understand fully the first reading from today.
For if we understand how far beyond God is greater than we are, we can understand how his word can achieve its purpose. And what is its purpose? Our salvation, of course. God wants us so desperately to accept his salvation. Because God is so infinite, so magnificent, so awesome, this purpose is achieved when he sends the Word, Jesus, to us so that we can be saved.
Do you believe God can save you? Do you believe that God loves you? The great season of Lent is to realize more than we can understand that we can be saved. It is to realize that God loves us more than we can imagine. Jesus became human, became one of us, precisely because we are so loved by God. So as you engage in this journey through Lent, turn yourself over to that love of God for you so that you can be the person you have been made to be.