The first reading of today’s Liturgy of the Word comes from the little known prophet, Baruch, who was a secretary to Jeremiah. For him the sufferings of Jerusalem are over. The pain of exile is about to come to an end. Jerusalem will delight in the glory and presence of God. “Jerusalem, take off the dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God forever, wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you, put the diadem of the glory of the eternal on your head.” This revived Jerusalem will receive a new name: “peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.” It will be a city distinguished by justice and peace and deserving honour from persistent worship.
The people of Jerusalem will turn their eyes to the east and behold the returning exiles. He makes use of the passage of second Isaiah quoted by John the Baptist in today’s Gospel to express his message. The Gospel adapts the text of Isaiah to suit the ministry of John. But, the original is rich in meaning. It reads as follows. “A voice cries, prepare in the desert a way for the Lord”. Twice, in its history, the people of God experienced suffering and pain in the wilderness. The people of the Exodus suffered the pains of exile in Egypt and as they made their way, in the desert, to the promised land. In the sixth century before Christ the people of God experienced the rigours of exile in Babylon. Isaiah is conscious of the previous exile as he describes the preparations for their return to Jerusalem. There is the question of building a mighty processional highway for God, first of all, as he makes his way back to the sanctuary in Jerusalem. However, he is not returning on his own. He also makes it possible for his people to return from exile to their native city. They, too, will travel on this smooth and levelled road to Jerusalem.
People go into exile for various reasons. The people of the Exodus went to Egypt in search of pasture and food. The people who went to Babylon were exiled for their failures to live up to the Covenant and what God wanted of them in their role as his people.
We too can find ourselves in exile for differing reasons. Some can be exiled from God, by allowing their faith and their sense of the Almighty to weaken and even disappear. They forget about God and Jesus Christ, prayer no longer figures, and they carry on as if God does not matter. Very often, this divorce from God is accompanied by a sense of emptiness and dissatisfaction that people, so affected, find it hard to account for. But, the truth is that God created us with a hole in the heart that will only be filled by the Lord himself. The thirst for the infinite lies deep in the being of us all.
People also experience a sense of exile when relationships break down. There is often lack of tolerance, frequent conflict and argument, and real isolation. Intimacy of the past goes by the wayside. It can be a constant battle or cold war with a sense of aggravation and desolation. For all parties there is sense of exile and exclusion.
Jesus came to remove the pains of exile and isolation. His wish is an inclusive society where people look out for each other, go beyond the call of duty, and in a spirit of self-giving love, build relationships with God, with family and with all neighbours, even with the Samaritans who inhabit our consciousness all the time.