…many peoples shall come and say:Isaiah 2:2-5, NAB
“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”
For from Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise the sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.
In the Catholic liturgical year, this Advent’s readings began with the book of Isaiah, including a phrase that is among Isaiah’s most evocative: Swords into plowshares.
The first time I heard those words, I was a child in school, and I read them in an account of a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. – a speech now known as “I have a dream.” To me, Dr. King’s call to nonviolence practically set to music the words from the book of Isaiah. The message seemed clear to me: beat our swords into plowshares, and peace will follow.
Still later, reading and hearing the whole of the book of Isaiah, I came to realize that my childhood impression of swords-into-plowshares was upside down. Beating swords into plowshares isn’t a first step. It’s a consequence that can only follow from “[C]limbing the Lord’s mountain…[that] we may walk in his paths.”
Sometimes I think pounding away at the swords would be easier. And just in time, Advent is here to nudge me away from that idea, to turn my impressions upside down, and to point me to that mountain I’m supposed to climb.