Noah, give Noah to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she received from the hand of the NAME double for all her mistakes.
A voice cries out in the desert prepare the way of the NAME! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. The importance of the NAME shall be revealed. All people shall see it together; the mouth of the NAME has spoken.
The Hebrew word for “Comfort” used in this passage is “Noah.” Give Noah to my people. What does Noah represent? Noah and his family are the only people who survived the flood. Noah is the last person through whom all the rest of the human race finds life.
Isaiah next mentions Jerusalem. “Jeru” means “City,” and “Shalom,” of course means, “Peace.” It means more than peace. “Shalom,” is also the word for “Complete,” and therefore, “Perfect.” Shalom means the perfect kind of peace that only comes with tranquility, feeling satisfied with what we have, as a nation. Proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt expiated. What guilt?
Hebrew has no punctuation. We are told to proclaim. In Hebrew service, the word is proclaimed by being sung. The cantillation of the rabbis is “A Voice cries out, in the desert prepare the way of the NAME.” That is the way the Egyptian monks of the first century understood the passage. They went out into the desert, built cells, and prepared for God. In the desert all were equal. This idea found its way through Athanasius to the Cappadocian Fathers to St. Ambrose and to St. Augustine, all of whom founded monasteries and rules for them, all of which taught equality amongst people. It also includes St. John Cassian.
Saint Hilary of Poitiers as well as of St. Martin of Tours form a link which goes to Columbus, to St. Patrick, and the Irish Catholic Church. There’s no desert in Ireland, but there is plenty of countryside, and it is to the countryside that the Irish went. The monks confessed their sins to each other. The purpose for going to the desert is to remove guilt and to return to a state of equality. In Ireland, the monks went out to the people and heard confession. That is where our understanding of confession comes from.
“Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” Isaiah wasn’t talking about mountains and hills, rugged land and plain, the rough broad. He talks of people. The mountain people, those who are filled with themselves will be made low. Those who lead tough lives, of whom I’m one, will be made smooth. The roughness of our lives will be smoothed out and we’ll receive that Noah, that comfort. We’ll live in the broad valley, as sheep, a community of equals. That’s why our first reading ends, Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.
In Jewish tradition, no word in scripture is present with no purpose. Elijah first appears in I Kings 17 as Elijah the Tishbite. “Teshubah,” is the Hebrew word for repentance. In I Kings 19 says of him that he ate cakes baked on coals. It also mentions a Staff a Cush of water. This can also mean a batter dripped on a hot grill with honey. Then it mentions that he drank water. II Kings 1:8 tells us that Elijah wore the camel’s hair and a leather belt. John the Baptist comes in the same tradition wearing the same clothes and eating the same food.
A look through the Greek Septuagint looking for Baptize will show us that the word translates as both to dip as we baptize our babies as Catholics, and as emersion. The idea is for a symbolic cleansing from the secular way we were, to become Tishbite, to repent and live a new way. This is the way of equality, where all are equal, all eat the same foods, and dress in the same dress.
Sin is inequality, were some live in fenced in communities, drive nice cars, and consume with impunity, knowing that across the street people go hungry. They look out their churches and see people with no homes who drown out their misery with alcohol. Let us work to build a community of equality. Then God will come and choose to dwell among us. Then we will feel his presence as it fills us in the Eucharist. This is why Mark begins his Gospel with John the Baptist.