by Father Mike Stubbs
It’s déjà vu all over again. That can hold true, not only for the little events of our personal life — like waking up in the morning or brushing your teeth — but also for the turning points of world history.
When civil war breaks out in Syria, in many ways it replays what we have seen happen elsewhere in the Middle East. It’s déjà vu all over again. Even the repetition looks repetitious.
Sunday’s first reading, Is 43:16-21, refers to the two turning points in the history of the people of Israel. First, it recalls the great event of Exodus, when God liberated the Hebrew people from the hands of the Egyptians, only to issue an instruction to cancel out that memory: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not.”
In recalling the Exodus, the Book of Isaiah speaks as though it were a present reality, even though it occurred centuries earlier. It places all in the present tense: “the Lord who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty water, who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army, till they lie prostrate together, never to rise.” It is as though Pharaoh and his army were floundering in the Red Sea at this actual moment. It’s not just some- thing that happened centuries ago.
By its reference to this event of Exodus, the Book of Isaiah draws a parallel between it and the circumstances during which the book was written.
Like the Hebrew people of old who had been enslaved in Egypt, the Israelites had been taken into captivity in Babylon.
Like the Hebrews of old, God was once again freeing them and bringing them into the Promised Land. If anything, in their return from exile in Babylon, God was accomplishing something even more wonderful than the great events of old.
As we listen to this reading from the Book of Isaiah, it suggests that we draw a comparison between those two great liberations of old, from slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon, to the liberation that we experience now in Jesus Christ. He also promises to free us from the slavery of sin. He also leads us into the Promised Land of heaven.
And once again, God will be accomplishing something even more wonderful than the great events of old. But it’s not just a repetition of the past. God promises us something brand new. “See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”