John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea, “Teshuvah, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken: A voice of one Isaac. In the desert prepare the way of the NAME, make straight his paths. Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent
Greek and Hebrew has no punctuation. Hebrew has no vowels. We speak of the Word proclaimed.
While reading, his (Ambrose’s) eyes glanced over the pages, and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were silent. Often, when we had come (for no one was forbidden to enter, nor was it his custom that the arrival of those who came should be announced to him), we saw him thus reading to himself, and never otherwise.” Confessions Book 6: Chapter 3 St. Ambrose came up with the idea of silent reading. Before that point, everything was chanted.
The masses flock to the churches. There we see their chaste acts of celebration, and a seemly separation of the sexes is observed. This is where they learn how they may so spend this earthly life, as to merit a blessed eternity hereafter; where Holy Scripture and instruction in righteousness are from a raised platform in the presence of all, that both they who do the word may hear to their salvation, and they who do it not may hear to judgment. There the precepts of the true God are recommended, His miracles narrated, His gifts praised, or His benefits implored. City of God Book 2, Chapter 28 Most people did not know how to read. The Word was read to them by their elders.
Within the Hebrew texts, there are two similar, yet unique systems of cantillation symbols. The first system is associated with the literary portions of the Bible and the second system with the Psalm manuscripts, the book of Job and Proverbs. There are also two schools of thought regarding these systems. The traditional premise is that the symbols of both cantillation systems represent specific vocal articulations that are used to intone the texts over traditional melodies, the execution of which varies from religious community-to-religious community. The second school of thought is that the cantillation symbols found within the Psalm manuscripts represent specific fixed pitches on which the texts were sung.
When we speak of proclaiming the word, we speak of how these texts were sung. There was no punctuation. The only way to know where the punctuation should be was to hear it sung at Mass, or for the Jews, in Synagogue. “Synagogue,” is a Greek term for the Jewish Beth Knesset or house of study. The general music notation for the reading for the Second Sunday of Advent is “A voice of one Isaac, in the desert prepare the way of the NAME. The linked site has a link allowing the reader to hear the chant, with the correct pause.
With this in mind, we read the first reading. “The spirit of the NAME shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of Ben/building up of others/understanding, a spirit of counsel/tree and of strength, a spirit of knowledge/ assemblage of facts and of fear of the NAME, and his delight shall be the fear of the NAME. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide…”
The Hebrew word for Spirit also translates breath. It also translates, “Smell.” Hebrew scholars have taken this to mean, The aroma of the NAME shall rest upon him: an aroma of clearly knowing what one learned from experience, and of building up (of others) an aroma of being like a tree, soft on the outside, strong on the inside, an aroma of strength. He will have an aroma of knowledge, and an aroma of fear/rayah of the Name. His delight will be in the fear/rayah of the Name. Rayah also translates as seeing and as shepherding. This is a looking to God as being members of his flock.
Hebrew scholars then look at the next section. “Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearing shall he decide.” Messiah decides by smell. Jesus tells us in Mark 4:24, “Βλέπετε τί ἀκούετε.” “See what you hear.” It means the same thing. Jesus uses a mixed metaphor to make the same point. Messiah sees with what he hears. He goes by a sense of smell. He touches people nobody else would touch. He uses all of his senses at one and calls us to do likewise.
This brings us to the cantillation of our passage. “In the desert prepare the way of God.” This intense use of the senses takes time and practice. This is why Jesus goes out to pray. Prayer, in Greek and in Hebrew is reflexive. The Hebrew base is judgment. It is sitting down and reflecting along with God, on how to make our lives better, and our community better. It is sitting down with God and deciding what his will is. It is giving us (not me, but us) our daily bread. That means reflecting with God on how all will have enough to eat. The Greek τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον literally translates the bread of the over being, the spiritual bread. Insofar as it is bread, it is for all. Then comes the call to forgive one another, followed by leading each other into temptation. Deliver us from rot/ ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ, means helping us to all live healthy/vibrant lives. We do this by first seeing each other with all of our senses.
Mark 7 has the healing of the deaf man. Jesus does nothing to fix his speech problem. His hearing problem is solved, and with it, his speech problem. If we do not hear, we cannot speak properly. What we say is gibberish. Mark drives home the point a chapter later in the healing of the blind man in the fishing village/Bethsaida. First, the blind man sees people as walking trees. The Hebrew word for tree, again, is the same as that for a counselor. He sees walking counselors, stodgy old men with no personality. This is how we see our professional people today. They are to go entirely by the rules. They are to be cogs in the machine. They are to put all personality out of their decisions and go by the letter.
Jesus has none of this. The second time Jesus heals the man, he sees. He does not see as we see. He does not see as “professionals” see. He sees the way God wants us to see. Professional comes from how we profess our faith. That means using all of our senses, at once. It judging with the sense of smell, smelling the aroma of all that is around us, in particular, the aroma of God in all people. It means seeing what we hear. It means being just that sensitive. Then the lion in us will be able to rest with the lamb in others.