I will set a sign among them; from them I will send fugitives to the nations… to the distant coastlands that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory; and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. (Is: 66:51-53)
In today’s first reading from the Book of Isaiah, God declares that he will send “fugitives” to call back the nations to faithfulness. Now “fugitive” seems a strange term to use to describe a messenger of God. Is this just a poor translation of a biblical expression?
In another bible translation the word used is “survivors” and in still another (King James) an entire phrase is used – “those who have escaped from them” – an expression more literal than lovely. This last expression however explains quite ably why the translators of our lectionary carefully selected fugitive as the apt term. So what is God is telling us here about the qualifications of the carriers of his word?
Throughout history, but more specifically in ancient times, the Jews were displaced from their ancestral home and taken into captivity or made to flee to far off lands. Even those who remained behind lived under foreign occupation. Yet, in many books of the Old Testament such as the Books of Daniel and Tobit, we read how many Jews remained faithful to the One God while living among their idolatrous conquerors. Even the Psalmist recalls how the Jews hung up their harps on the poplar trees by the rivers of Babylon; for they would not pluck their strings while they yearned for Jerusalem (Ps 137:1-2). Faithful Jews remained attached to God and detached from the pagan culture.
Thus the spiritual meaning of the term “fugitives” means that those who are sent out into the world to preach the Holy Name of Jesus Christ must be detached from the world and from its many profane principles. They must “escape” the trappings of the earth and “survive” the trials of temptation that solicit each of us to favor the things of earth over the things of heaven. The messengers must be fugitive to vain and worthless things (Ps 24:3) if they are to lead others to heavenly things.
For this 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time we propose the need for such detachment. We place on our bulletin cover a work by the British sculptor and painter and Pre-Raphaelite sympathizer, Frederic Leighton, entitled Solitude (1890). We use this work merely as an allegory for Christian detachment.
The woman in the image sits thoughtfully and beautifully upon a shrouded stone as it were the world draped in her solitude. She sits in a dark cave yet she has been preserved in white. The setting is dim however she is bathed in light as if from an illumination above. She has escaped the world; she is for us a fugitive of thought and prayer as she looks down compassionately past her own feet into the murky and mundane pool below. Still her expression might be described as “pensive” as Lady Detachment knows she cannot remain there; for just as in Plato’s myth of the cave she too must return to the world to bring it truth and good counsel, leading others to God.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services