Baptism of the Lord – January 10, 2021

When the pandemic began last year, a friend of mine was confined to his home because of his health.  He began to watch television crime dramas in order to while away the idle hours.  His conversation about his enjoyment of the crime dramas led me to watch the same shows. 

I noticed a recurring theme common to unrelated crime drama shows.  In the shows, police detectives are often portrayed picking up fast food or grabbing a quick cup of coffee from a roadside snack vendor.  Inevitably, a call to respond to an urgent situation forces the officer or detective to abandon the food or drink before it can be consumed.  At first, I assumed that this recurring story element was just another cliché of cop and robber television shows.  After a while, it occurred to me that this recurring theme was integral to the storytelling. 

There is something sad to the point of being hopeless about eating alone in one’s car or drinking a generic cup of coffee.  The desperation of the situation is made all the more poignant when the police officer or detective has to throw away the food or drink in order to respond to an emergency. 

These scenes, although repetitive, add to the despairing character of a story about crime, violence, or loss.  This is due to the fact that eating and drinking are more than mere necessities for individual survival; they are experiences that go to the heart of what it means to be a member of society.  The author of the first reading knew well the profound significance of eating and drinking. 

Today’s selection from the prophet Isaiah was written just as the Hebrew exiles in Babylon were preparing to begin their journey back to the Land of Promise.  They had endured almost sixty years in exile, and they were overjoyed at the prospect of returning to their homeland.  Second Isaiah describes the hopefulness of the returning exiles in terms that are both simple and profound.  In today’s selection from Second Isaiah, the prophet says to the exiles, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!  You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat; Come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost!” (Isa. 55:1)  The meaning of the prophecy is explained by a further proclamation by the prophet, “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake their way, and sinners their thoughts; Let them turn to the Lord to find mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.” (Isa. 55:6-7) 

It is all but impossible to be unhappy while seated, in the company of friends and family, at a table laden with fine food.  The unavoidable joy of a pleasant meal is the result of the twin blessings of being in the company of loved ones and being sated.  This prophecy from Second Isaiah depicts a situation, and a People, filled with hope.  Sadly, in our society today, hope is scarcer than the consumer goods hoarded since the beginning of the pandemic. 

News reporting, across the editorial spectrum, is filled with stories of violence, conflict, and destruction.  These and other social ills have a single cause: all are the result of a lack of hope.  There are many excuses employed to rationalize hopelessness, but there is only one cause of hopelessness. 

It’s easy to say that a situation is hopeless because one didn’t get what one felt entitled to get.  It’s easy to blame one’s hopelessness on the (perceived) moral failings of others.  It’s easy to explain one’s hopelessness as a justifiable response to feeling betrayed or disappointed or ignored.  As hopelessness derives from only one source, however, none of these excuses is valid.  Hope is an act directed toward God and grounded in trust of God.  Hope means having confidence in God’s mercy; this confidence is solely the result of having come to know and love God.  In the absence of real hope, despair is inevitable.  The despairing behavior of those who commit acts of violence and lawlessness is observable proof of both the possibility of misunderstanding the nature of hope and the necessary link between hope and overt faith in the Trinity. 

There is a simple and effective remedy for the seemingly out-of-control violence in our society.  The remedy for despair and its effects is to be hopeful, and hopefulness is easy to cultivate.  If you would like to live in a world where the scoundrel forsakes his unjust ways and the wicked abandon their violent thoughts, you have only to do what Second Isaiah’s prophecy prescribes, “turn to the Lord to find mercy; to our God, who is generous in forgiving.” (Isa. 55:7)  The prophecy even offers a suggestion about how to accomplish this repentance and reform. 

Based on Second Isaiah’s prophecy, I’d like to suggest this exercise in hope: share a meal regularly with loved ones, or even casual acquaintances.  Turn off the television and the computer, banish the cellphones and tablets to a distant part of the house, and spend the time in conversation with the people with whom you share a meal; do this on a habitual basis.  If you can’t dine with friends and loved ones because of the unusual current circumstances, make it possible for others to do so (make a donation to a local charity), then have a good meal and be grateful for all the good and loving people in your life. 

If you find yourself despairing, it is the result of not nourishing your soul appropriately.  An easy remedy for spiritual malnourishment is to enjoy a meal in gratitude to God and in the company of good people.  Eating and drinking are more than mere requirements for physical survival; they are acts that feed our spirits and make us hopeful members of society.  If you improve the nourishment you provide to your soul, your perspective on life will change; you will live with hope like that of former exiles returning to their homeland.