by Father Mike Stubbs
Recently, I read the book “The Worst Hard Time,” by Timothy Egan. It tells the story of the Dust Bowl, which hit the Great Plains during the 1930s.
It is hard to imagine the extreme hardships that people endured. Some died from the dust that they inhaled. Many were reduced to poverty. The fact that the entire country was going through the Great Depression did not help any. People’s spirits were at an all-time low. One man wrote in his diary: “Today is just common hell, death and destruction to every growing thing. A dry, deadly S.W. wind, a dead clear sky and a vicious blazing sun make up the picture of destruction. God in his infinite wisdom might have made a more discouraging place than Webster County, Nebraska, but as far as I know God never did.”
The book also tells about the efforts to reverse the damage done to the soil by the over-plowing which caused the dust storms. As part of the New Deal, soil conservation districts were created to promote better farming practices that would protect the land. The goal was to heal the land and restore it to health. Through that process, people’s physical health would also improve. Ultimately, their spirits would rise.
That also is the vision proclaimed in Sunday’s first reading, Is 35:1-6a, 10: “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.” Of course, the land in this case is the Holy Land. Over the centuries, over-grazing of the pastures, intensive farming, and the cutting down of trees for firewood and lumber had taken their toil on the land. The desert gradually made inroads. This is the original dust bowl. The land is in need of healing.
The prophet extends his vision of God’s healing to include people as well: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak. . . . Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.”
Besides healing these physical ailments, God will also address the spiritual needs of the people: “Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”
In Isaiah’s vision, salvation encompasses restoration of the land, and people’s physical healing as well as their spiritual healing. God wishes to address all three areas. We cannot limit God’s salvation to any one area.
The vision of salvation that Isaiah enunciated thousands of years ago continues to speak to our own situation. The earth has suffered ecological damage. People still have physical ailments. They are still in need of spiritual healing. We are waiting for our God to save us.