Readings (Year C):
Reflection: New beginnings
In some cultures, a woman who has been widowed or who loses a child wears black for a year to signal her mourning. Her face too wears the marks of grief. The sparkle in her eyes gives way to ready tears and her gait becomes heavy from sorrow. Such is the image of the city of Jerusalem in today’s first reading.
Baruch characterizes the devastated city as a woman in mourning for her exiled children who have been forcibly taken away from her by the Babylonians. The prophet declares that it is time for Jerusalem to exchange her robe of mourning and misery for a brilliant new mantle. Her new cloak is spun from justice and glory from God. If she despaired for her children, thinking God had forgotten them, the prophet insists that “they are remembered by God” (Bar. 5:5).
The humiliation of their forced march into exile on foot will be undone by their being carried back aloft, as if they were royalty. The heights of despair and the depths of depression will be leveled out. It is not that the suffering is forgotten, or that anything could go back to being the way it was before the tragedy, but now the divine gift of joy settles over the grieving mother as rebuilding life out of the ruins begins. The returnees are led by God’s light, and their companions are mercy and justice.
This time of pandemic has felt like a kind of exile for us, too, hasn’t it? On top of that, migrants and refugees at our borders, and victims of violence in our cities are all struggling to rebuild life out of the ruins. Like Jerusalem in Baruch’s time, there is no going back to what was before, but we let God’s motherly care enfold us with mercy and justice as our companions. With them we can move toward healing, restoration, and the chance for a new beginning.
In the gospel, John the Baptist also announces a chance for a new beginning. The narrative starts on an ominous note, reminding us of the power that Pontius Pilate, Herod, Annas, and Caiaphas hold. We already know the end of the story. And so it is with some urgency we hear John’s invitation to repent: to turn away from personal choices that impede God’s coming and collectively turn toward divine mercy.
Using Isaiah’s words, John first speaks in imperatives: prepare and make straight the way. But then the verbs shift to the passive voice, implying that it will be the Coming One himself who will do the filling in of the valleys and leveling of the mountains, straightening out winding roads, and smoothing the rough ways. The Coming One does not eliminate the suffering and sorrow along life’s path, but fills us with saving joy, justice, forgiveness, and mercy as we open ourselves to the great things God has done and continues to do for us.
Portions of these reflections are excerpted from Barbara E. Reid, OP, Abiding Word. Sunday Reflections for Year C (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2012), 3-4.