Isaiah sets the theme for today's celebration by passing on Yahweh's promise, "There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of Yahweh as water covers the sea." To biblically know something or someone means much more than just having an intellectual familiarity with the person or object. Our sacred authors presume we truly know only what we experience. So when the prophet speaks about "knowledge of Yahweh," he's actually talking about "experiencing Yahweh."
Isaiah deliberately compares his own Yahweh-experience to water covering the sea. For him, Yahweh's presence is as all-pervasive as water in an ocean. No part of creation is without God.
John the Baptizer says something similar in our gospel pericope. "Reform your lives! The reign of God is at hand." For John and Jesus, "God's reign" refers to God present and working effectively in our everyday lives. Both contend that God's presence permeates all we do and are.
Though addressing faith communities over 700 years apart, Isaiah and John surface one of our most basic human longings. We want to know that God's somehow present at the core of our existence. No biblical writer believed we'd experience God only at the end of our natural lives. Each is convinced that if we're not recognizing God among us, we must not be living our faith correctly. God's as deeply embedded in our existence as water is involved in the existence of a fish. But just as a fish isn't always conscious of the water around it, neither are we conscious of God around us.
How do we raise (of deepen) our consciousness level? In both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, the trick is to look at reality from a different perspective.
For Isaiah, Israel should be able to surface Yahweh's saving presence in their leaders' personality traits. If they discover wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge and fear of Yahweh in them, then Yahweh's spirit must also be in them. If they find that their leaders treat the poor and afflicted justly, then Yahweh's acting through them. Only when and if the Chosen People demand such leadership characteristics will they begin to achieve the peace and tranquility which Yahweh's presence alone can guarantee. Even non-Jews will be attracted to such a way of life.
John also believes things must change before God's reign becomes evident. But this desert prophet looks beyond Israel's leaders. He zeros in on the changes which should take place deep down inside each of us. Our lives, not the lives of others, must be "reformed." Our value systems must do a 180. He reminds his audience that their formal religious affiliation or history is meaningless. "God can raise up children to Abraham from these very stones." Once we personally start to see our relationships with others from a new perspective, we'll also start to notice God present in our lives.
Paul learned not only John's lesson, but also Jesus' amplification of that lesson. "Live in perfect harmony with one another," he encourages the Romans, "according to the spirit of Christ Jesus . . . . Accept one another as Christ accepted you . . . ." The Apostle mirrors Isaiah's belief that such acceptance reaches out to all people, even Gentiles. No wonder biblically oriented Eucharistic presiders have replaced the traditional greeting, "God _be_ with you!" with "God _is_ with you!" Why would anyone wish for something that already exists? Our sacred authors would think it heresy to presume there might be a situation or person in which God is not present. Perhaps some use "be" instead of "is" simply because they don't want to do what's necessary to make God's presence a tangible reality in their lives.