When I imagine what gifts a prophet would most need, courage,
integrity and patience come to the fore. In this passage, the prophet describes
another essential: a listening heart.
The verse begins with the recognition that the prophetic role is
a gift: “The Lord has given me a well-trained tongue.” The prophet claims
no superior insight or wisdom. Rather, he acknowledges that his words of comfort
and hope are, first of all, received.
They are given him so that he might “speak to the weary a word that
will rouse them.” Second Isaiah faces the difficult task of rekindling the faith
and hope of the Jewish people faced with devastation. In the same verse, the
prophet alludes to his daily habit of listening for God’s word. This, too, is
described as gift.
We have a picture of the prophet straining to understand the meaning
of events, asking God to help him discern their significance. In the phrase
“He opens my ear,” the prophet expresses both gratitude and humility.
Listen With Ear and Heart
During the season of Advent, the theme of waiting is prominent.
Like the Prophet Isaiah, we know what it is to wait and to listen for the meaning
of events in our own lives.
We share at times the questions of the exiles: Where is God now?
What am I supposed to learn from this? Could my pain profit anyone? Will I ever
feel close to God again?
Depths Carved Through Pain
A few years ago I had a wonderful experience on a flight to
California. It was a clear day. Flying over the Southwest, I could see layers
and layers of color in the Painted Desert and appreciate the way twisting rivers
had carved out exquisite canyons far below.
Just then, the woman next to me awakened. Originally from Romania,
she began to share the pain her native country had known during the dictatorship
of Nicolae Ceausescu. She told me she was going to spend a few days with some
college students she knew in California. Although her own life had been hard,
she told me she felt sorry for young people here.
“They try to construct their lives so that they will never experience
anything difficult,” she said. “This is not possible.”
I look back on my life and I realize that the suffering I have experienced
has also given me a very rich life. Those experiences have carved out places
of depth and beauty in me that might otherwise not exist.
There I sat, with the canyons out my window on one side and this
woman describing her life in that very imagery on the other. This woman had
experienced the gifts of which Second Isaiah speaks.
She had waited and listened deeply to the message of her life. She
was aware that God had given her a word of hope and of wisdom for others that
she was eager to share.
This passage invites us to pay close attention to the word being
spoken and carved into our lives. We are also urged to be willing to share that
This is the last column of this series.