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By Barbara Leonhard, O.S.F.

The Bible: Light to My Path

St. Anthony Messenger has invited several biblical experts to contribute to this column in 2002. Each month, one author has chosen a passage that comforts, challenges or seems neglected. He or she explained how to apply this passage and connect it to everyday life. This month's guide:

Barbara Leonhard, O.S.F., is an Oldenburg Franciscan. She has an M.A. in Scripture from the Catholic Theological Union and a Ph.D. in Christian Spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union. Sister Barbara is a regular contributor to St. Anthony Messenger Press's Homily Helps.



Listen With Ear and Heart
Depths Carved Through Pain
Biblical Background

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear....

Isaiah 50:4


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 word.

This is the last column of this series.


Biblical Background

Chapters 40—55 of Isaiah, commonly known as Second Isaiah, were written during the time of the Babylonian Exile. Jerusalem and the Temple were now destroyed and most of the remaining Israelite people were in captivity. The prophet spoke to a people stunned and discouraged by these events. They wondered if God had abandoned them.

A distinctive feature of Second Isaiah is a series of four Servant Songs. In these poems, the role of the prophet/leader is specifically addressed. They describe the mission of the servant alternately speaking a word of hope to the exiles and suffering on their behalf. Isaiah 50:4 is the beginning of the Third Servant Song (50:4-9).


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