“Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
We continue to read from the fortieth chapter of the Prophet Isaiah today. Just as the first verses of this chapter are rather famous because of their musical setting by George F. Handel, so too these verses were made popular through the movie Chariots of Fire (1981). The movie tells the story of several British Olympic athletes who triumph over the odds in the first Olympic Games held after World War I. One of the athletes is a devout Christian, the son of a missionary. When he learns that he must run on the Sabbath, he withdraws from the competition rather than compete on the Lord’s Day. (If you have never seen the movie, it is well worth renting it from any of the various DVD rental companies.)
For members of CUSA who are dealing with disabilities that make walking difficult, these verses fill us with hope. I am writing this having just returned from a physical therapy session which concentrated on balance issues, balance being very necessary for walking without falling! Although Isaiah comes long before the children of Israel even considered life after death a real possibility, these verses can be interpreted in the light of the notion of “glorified” bodies. No physical obstacle or disability will hamper us once we are gathered up into the bosom of the Lord.
For Isaiah and the people to whom he preached, these verses are directly related to the Babylonian captivity. Chapter forty of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is the first chapter of what Scripture scholars refer to as Deutero (Second) Isaiah, the exilic prophet. (First Isaiah is pre-exilic; Trito Isaiah is post-exilic.) After the conquest of Assyria over Israel, the young and fit people had been dragged off into slavery in Babylon while the sickly and elderly were left behind to fend for themselves. Chapter forty introduces the oracles of Isaiah which speak of the eventual deliverance of Israel and their return to Jerusalem. They had been led away from Jerusalem shackled; many had died as they made their way through the desert. Isaiah promises that they shall be renewed in their strength through their faith in the Lord.
Today we find ourselves still yearning for the strength that comes through faith in God and in Jesus. Many are still shackled with the chains of addictive behavior and by the bonds of disability. For some the shackles find their expression in mental illness; for others the chains are bodily infirmities. Isaiah’s oracle applies to our situation just as surely as it applies to the historical realities of ancient Israel. We too can look forward to the day when we will soar on eagles' wings, when we shall run and not grow weary under the burden of years and physical infirmity.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator