by Father Mike Stubbs
“Pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi.” “Visit the Holy Land, Follow in the Footsteps of Jesus.” “Fatima and Lourdes in 10 Days.”
Every once in a while, we see announcements about various trips to sacred sites. The Leaven sometimes will print an advertisement for one. In making a pilgrimage, we Catholics continue a tradition that comes to us from the early days of the Bible. The Israelite people looked upon Jerusalem, specifically the Temple in Jerusalem, as the place to visit in making their pilgrimage.
While pilgrimages to Jerusalem were not restricted to any particular time of the year, it was especially encouraged during three annual feasts: Passover, the Feast
of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles. These celebrated different harvests and took place in the early spring, the late spring, and the autumn. They were ways to thank God for the blessings of livestock and crops.
Sunday’s reading, Is 2:1-5, looks forward to a time when, besides the Israelite people, Gentiles will also journey to Jerusalem to worship God in the Temple: “All nations shall stream toward it.”
The city of Jerusalem is built on a considerably higher elevation in comparison to the surrounding area. When approaching the city, it is necessary to go up. Pilgrims traveling on foot would especially notice the upward climb. When the Bible mentions a trip to Jerusalem, it often describes the journey as “going up to Jerusalem.”
Isaiah’s prophecy plays upon that higher elevation of the city: “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.”
These words should not be taken literally. They are not talking about a geological change. They do not mean that the hill on which the Temple was built would compete with Mount Everest. They do mean that the Temple would stand out in the eyes of the world as the place to worship God. In the future, Gentiles would be inspired to say to each other, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob.”
How should we interpret these words now? The Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed for nearly 2,000 years. While many Jews, Christians and Muslims continue to venerate Jerusalem as a holy place and one worthy of a visit, I do not believe that the primary intent of the prophecy is to encourage pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Rather, the prophecy looks forward to a time when all people will worship the one God. All people will turn to God for guidance — “that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”
Consequently, they will put aside their differences: “One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”