Binding Up the Brokenhearted

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
           because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
          to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
          and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
          and the day of vengeance of our God;
          to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
          to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
          the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  Is. 61: 1-3.

In many respects, this passage from the book of Isaiah provides the perfect Advent reflection.  It gathers up many of the emotions of the people of Israel after the Babylonian exile.   King Nebuchadnezzar and his army had destroyed the Temple, the place where God and man intersected.  Many had been sold into bondage; families were scattered and broken.  The Jews had been humiliated and these were “the worst hard times”.    And Isaiah rose to tell them God remained with them, somehow, in all this mess.

Isaiah refers back to the book of Leviticus, to proclaim the year of jubilee.  (In the year of jubilee, which occurred every fifty years, the prisoners were released, and all debts were forgiven. )  We see this theme running throughout Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments):  God comes to shower his blessings on those whose spirits have been crushed and whose hearts have been broken.  God’s focus doesn’t rest on the superpowers, the wealthy, the priests or the religious elite.  Isaiah thus proclaimed that God was at work; the days of sorrow were over and the days of joy had begun.

 This passage from Isaiah should sound very familiar to Christian readers.  This is the exact passage Jesus reads from in the synagogue when he returns to his hometown, Nazareth.  When Jesus read from this scroll, he announced:  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Luke 4:20.  I think this reveals two important messages.  First, it tells us a good deal about Jesus’ understanding of his mission.  He came to bind up the brokenhearted, to release the prisoners and set the captives free, and to bring sight to the blind.

 If we take the Incarnation seriously and believe that we really are the body of Christ the second message of this Scripture becomes clear:  if we follow Jesus, this is our mission as well.  Because of the Incarnation, our task is clear:  we are to tend to the brokenhearted, the blind, those who mourn, and those who are enslaved.  Sometimes, those conditions may be literal, and sometimes they may be spiritual.  Either way, that’s the purpose and the proper function of the Body of Christ.

Thus, Advent announces something deeply joyous, a joy that reaches far beyond our understanding.  As Rabbi Heschel once wrote:

There is not enough grandeur in our souls
To be able to unravel in words
The knot of time and eternity.
One should like to sing for all men,
For all generations…
There is a song in the wind
And joy in the trees.

Our joy approaches, and the whole earth quickens as the Word nears.

Shabbat Shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

 © 2011 James R. Dennis

8 responses to “Binding Up the Brokenhearted

  1. I know in my life, the book of Isaiah changed me into a more spititually aware Christian. I often return here for spiritual insight…it is boundless! But one thing that always gets me is the model set here for the church. Isaiah 58 is my favorite, but it is an overwhelming theme throughout. It seems so obvious to me the direct and indirect implications of HOW it is suppossed to work! Even our own healing requires that we be healers and stop “the wagging of the finger”…and then, “our healing springs forth”! Your post reflects the theme of Isaiah and is very well written.
    I hope people will begin to understand that Isaiah is not only a model for the church, but only for the individual believer. Each person should follow the directions laid out and understand the magnitude of the blessing! Each of us must see with our hearts, the spiritual magic in Isaiah…as each person gets “in tune” with God, then the body of Christ will be full of power through the Holy Spirit. This is a most beautiful transformation! Just imagine if we could become what the Lord envisioned for His Church…present with power…not of words only.
    Thank you for a blessed post!

    • Thanks so muhc for your kind words. I think what you’ve said is true of the prophets, generally, as well. They are too under-utilized in the Christian Church, both as a blueprint for what a just society looks like, and as a mirror for the individual believer. Thanks again, and God’s peace on you and your house.

  2. Brother James, there is such a rawness and beauty about the Incarnation. I like the connections in Scripture that you showed to us. It’s so easy for an amateur reader of the Bible like me to forget how the OT is so intimately tied to the NT.

    The Incarnation is the reason I wear an icon of St. Francis around my neck. It is to remind me of the level of compassion I must display toward others, and it focuses my attention outward. The Incarnation was an incomprehensible and perfect act of compassion.

    • Lara,

      I think you’re exactly right about the Incarnation. It was as raw and beautiful as a child born into a stable, or as that afternoon on Golgatha. All of us fall into the trap of trying to “spiritualize” something that was en-fleshed, and yet unthinkably divine. I like the notion of the Francis icon. Thanks for your thoughts and your attention to living compassionately.


      Br. James

  3. “God remained with them, somehow, in all this mess…” Needed that, thank you Br James. Joy even though…

  4. Thank you for this reminder. May God bless you and continue to guide you in all you do. Pola

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