Saturday, January 16, 2016

Vindication for the Broken

The following comes from the Catholic Exchange:

January 17, 2016
First Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5
Breaking up stings. It is not just the pain of loss, but the embarrassment of having a relationship that we wanted taken away. It is embarrassing to tell your friends that you were the one rejected or that you got fired or that you got the raw end of a deal. The embarrassing pain of rejection cannot easily be reversed. It feels like a blot on one’s character, a permanent mark. Yet to allow the pain to become permanent involves losing hope, rejecting new possibilities, forgetting who you really are. Unfortunately, many of us import these ways of thinking into our relationship with God. We know we are sinners and have made many mistakes and even after repenting and receiving His forgiveness, we can hold on to our failures as if they define us and hang on to our losses as if they show us our true character. We can even find ourselves in a place of refusing to let God love us because we feel ourselves to be unworthy. This dark struggle with coming to accept oneself, receive God’s love, and allow our troublesome past to be forgotten in the light of his presence is what redemption is all about.

A Broken People

In this Sunday’s first reading from Isaiah 62, we see the prophet announcing a message of great hope to a broken, exiled and disappointed people. He addresses the people as “Zion,” the nickname for the capital city, Jerusalem. The latter half of Isaiah relates to a period when the Jews were exiled from their homeland. The Babylonians smashed and destroyed the city of Jerusalem before they exiled the Jews. Zion, the desolate, broken city, is now the center of the vindication of God’s people, the mouthpiece of her cause. They have been undergoing the dark struggle of rejection. They thought they were God’s people, but their homes were destroyed, the Temple was in ruins and they have been sent away from the land the Lord promised to their father Abraham. They were thoroughly embarrassed by their enemies. The Babylonians deposed their king and poked out his eyes (2 Kgs 25:7). The people of God were ashamed, downcast, humiliated.


The prophet speaks up to announce their vindication—the restoration of their honor, “her vindication goes forth as brightness” (Isa 62:1 RSV). Vindication is hard to explain. It often means to be exonerated, to be cleared of wrongdoing, but in this case, it means something different. It means to defend the right of God’s people to be God’s people. Even though the people of God had been embarrassed and humiliated by their enemies, even though they had been punished for their sins, they were still God’s people and he would come to their aid and defend them. He would avenge their honor and claim them for himself.

A Reunited Couple

What would their restoration look like? The formerly exiled people would come back to their land. They would be restored to their home. Their enemies, the Babylonians, would themselves be crushed and humiliated by foreign armies. The Jews would reclaim their rightful place as God’s people, blessed and honored in the land he set aside for them. No longer would outsiders be able to scoff at the Jews as “Forsaken” or “Desolate,” but rather, the Jewish people would now be called Hephzibah, which means “my delight is in her”—an actual name in 1 Kings 21:1. Also, their land would be calledBeulah, which means “married.” The forsaken, desolate, embarrassed people who seemed to be without hope, lost in exile in a foreign land, will be reunited with their original “spouse.” The break-up would be over and a reunion would be in order.

Freedom from Shame

Sin embarrasses us. When we sin and fall away from God, we can fixate on our own mistakes of judgment and weaknesses of character. It is embarrassing to realize that your desires have a hold on you. Yet when God restores us to relationship with himself through Baptism and Confession, he frees us from that embarrassment. His forgiveness blots our ours sins and restores us to a place of honor. The dishonor of having failed, fallen and damaged our relationship with him is undone by God’s mercy. He releases us not only from the guilt of having sinned, but from the attending shame. He truly sets us free from the humiliation of sin and gives us an honored place in his presence. His gracevindicates us and restores our honor.

Finding Freedom in Knowing God’s Love

Fairytales end with the famous trope: “…and they lived happily ever after.” Here Isaiah’s portrait of God’s restored relationship with his people is similar:
For as a young man marries a virgin,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
(Isa 62:5 RSV)
While Isaiah had used the marriage metaphor before to explain the wrath of God against his people in terms of the anger of a betrayed spouse (Isa 5:1-7), now he builds on the idea he had introduced earlier of God taking back the wife that he had only temporarily abandoned (Isa 54:1-7). He returns to her, woos her, marries her, and rejoices over her. Marriage brings an end to the shame of rejection, loneliness and the nagging question at the back of one’s mind, “Does anyone really love me?” Here, Godmarries his people (imaged as the Jews “marrying” Jerusalem), bringing an end to their shame and an assurance of his love and fidelity to them. He has not abandoned them. Similarly, when we come to realize that an all-powerful, omniscient, eternal deity would deign to care about us, love us, seek us, redeem us, and yes, even marry us, we should be overwhelmed. His great love for us vanquishes all of our self-doubts. It cleanses us of our shame and guilt and frees us from embarrassment. God means to redeem us and to liberate us from our past sins, and let us finally rest in his presence and in the knowledge of his great love for us.

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