Most of us have seen road construction. Where highways or motorways are built there is often a great gouging of the natural landscape. We have seen where lower places have been built up, and where hills that have been ‘in the way’ are dynamited to bring them down. All this is done so that a level highway can be built. We have seen where roads have been directed through swamps and farm fields, and even through city neighborhoods to remove the bends and turns so that a straight roadway might be made. All of this is done for convenience and expediency, but none of this is brought about without great cost and loss.
We hear the call in Isaiah and reiterated in Mark’s gospel to prepare the way. The voice is calling out in the desert to prepare the way of God, to build a straight highway for God through the wilderness. Yes, the way is through the desert. It’s a long, hot, and thirsty crossing, and there is no quick exit road. The image reminds the people of their ancestors’ journey through the desert after the exodus event. It was a rough time, but they emerged from the journey with an identity that they had been formed as God’s people.
The way was a familiar term in New Testament times. Jesus described himself as the Way. He went into the desert to find his way. Luke uses the term to refer to disciples and discipleship, those following the Way. That way too takes us through the desert, and as people with a mission it takes us into the deserts of life where we must walk together and build that highway with God’s suffering people. The group that can be formed together in the deserts of life is familiar with the way, comes to know the way and how to be on the way together. For, it is only through the desert that God’s highway can be built.
The back roads may be quiet and pretty, conducive to pondering and meditation. But as people with a mission to confront the distortions of truth with the power of the Word, we are asked to leave the back roads, just as our sister Catherine was asked to leave her cell. We are called to construction work on God’s highway. And so we must find ourselves constructing –
A Highway of Peace through the desert of war, violence, terrorism
A Highway of Equality of opportunity through the desert of racism, sexism, classism,
A Highway of Justice through the desert of economic want, poverty, hunger, devasting diseases,
A Highway of Freedom through the desert of enslavement, abuse, imprisonment of any kind.
Might Jesus point out to us today, “The deserts are vast, and the construction workers few.”
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP