To whom can you liken me as an equal?
says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
and see who has created these things:
He leads out their army and numbers them,
calling them all by name.
Saint Francis of Assisi was profoundly impressed with the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. He is known as the Seraphic Saint because his spirit soared with the seraphic angels who surrounded the Lord in Isaiah's vision. Toward the end of his life, he saw a vision of a seraphic angel and bore the marks of Christ's stigmata on his body from then on.
Isaiah's vision and teaching, of course, appear often in the Gospels. As the Evangelists struggled to make sense of what they had seen and heard they found ready answers in Isaiah. For that reason we often hear Isaiah described as the "first gospel."
Approaching Christmas and Easter the Church often turns to Isaiah; his songs and prophecies seem to blossom during these spring-like seasons.
Today's first reading begins with an invitation to wonder, "To whom can you liken me as an equal?... Lift up you eyes on high and see who has created these things!"
Many Christians feel overwhelmed by the revelations of astronomy. The "known universe" is so much larger than anything our ancestors imagined. Our Hebrew and Christian scriptures were written when astronomers supposed the world was a flat disk and the stars were fixed in a sphere that whirled around it. With more study they developed an increasingly complex theory of many layers of transparent spheres at greater and greater distance to the earth; the furthest were whipping around at incomprehensible speeds. In fact, they had to spin faster than the speed of light!
Copernicus and Galileo finally relieved us of such impossible physics with a "heliocentric" model; the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe. But that theory soon collapsed as the spheres were still spinning at shattering speeds around the sun. Before most people could keep up with these astronomical theories with their distances that bordered on the infinite the universe seemed to surpass the imagination of God himself.
Was it really plausible that the Earth should house the Lord God of such dimension?
Critics mistakenly accused the medieval church of an earth-centered imagination which was now proven illusionary. In fact the medieval imagination saw God with his minions in the heavens as the center of all creation. The troubled Earth with its wars, famines, disease and death was the hinterland of God's governance; it still waited for his kingdom to be established.
This updated theory of the universe with its unprovable suggestion of a multiverse, like the very stars our ancestors watched, still invites wonder. Convinced as we are that the universe is not infinitely eternal but "created out of nothing," we are again stunned into silence by God's challenge, "To whom can you liken me as an equal? Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these things: He leads out their army and numbers them, calling them all by name."
Today's Gospel adds another dimension of wonder to Isaiah's universal vision. Jesus' words -- "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." -- call to mind the old hymn,
He touched me, Oh He touched me,And oh the joy that floods my soul!Something happened and now I know,He touched me and made me whole.
Ours is a personal God who knows and cares for each one of us.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches over me.Or, as James Weldon Johnson wrote,
|This Great God,|
|Like a mammy bending over her baby,||85|
|Kneeled down in the dust|
|Toiling over a lump of clay|
|Till He shaped it in His own image;|
|Then into it He blew the breath of life,|
|And man became a living soul.||90|