The use of Isaiah 40 in all four gospels underscores the centrality of the wilderness as God’s base of operations for preaching the gospel outside of and in opposition to the things that human beings construct both mentally and physically.
Still, this fact does not give us a license to claim an abstract understanding of the meaning of Isaiah 40 or what it implies for the writers of the New Testament. A word, phrase or even a passage from a biblical text holds no meaning in abstraction. Even when placed in context, words extracted from Scripture are powerless when stripped of their canonical syntax and literary function.
While the systematic use of Isaiah 40 highlights the significance of the midbar and shepherdism in all four gospels, Mark’s gospel applies Isaiah 40 to the conspiracy against St. Paul’s teaching, emphasizing Paul’s function as the voice of the Lord in the wilderness. In contrast, faced with a gentile audience already evangelized by St. Paul, Luke is much more interested in demonstrating how the Lord goes about flattening, smoothing, and straightening the crooked places of Rome and Jerusalem.
In each text, the where, when, how, and why of Isaiah 40 are made functional along with the way its language is employed to drive home the author’s specific point. To make the mistake of generalizing or glossing over the value of each appearance is as misguided as ignoring or dismissing the Bible’s endless repetition of certain passages because we heard them, and we think we know them. Arrogance may look good on God, but it looks like ignorance on the rest of us.
Richard and Fr. Marc discuss Luke 3:3-6 (Episode 471)
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