The first reading at Mass today, Isaiah 11. 1-10, has many resonances. Different words leap out of the page according to the context in which the passage is read. Today, when we commemorate the martyr saints Edmund Campion, Ralph Sherwin and Alexander Briant, it is the wolf and the lamb living together that captures my imagination.*
We tend to think of the martyrs as lambs to the slaughter, accused of treason and subject to appalling torture. We forget that our Elizabethan and Jacobean ancestors were no keener on torture than we are ourselves but adopted a contemporary form of the mantra, ‘desperate times call for deperate measures’. On the eve of the Commons’ debate on whether to bomb Syria, questions of war and peace, the right conduct of society, moral obligation and personal integrity, are peculiarly urgent. In the context of the Advent call to holiness of life, they are illumined by the words of Isaiah in ways we may find surprising.
Often, when we pray for peace, we pray for the wolf to change, as though he could cease to be a meat-eater and somehow become a grass-nibbler; or, we’ll pray for the lamb to change, as though she could become a predator and instil fear in other animals. I wonder whether that isn’t missing the point. Isaiah’s messianic vision sees the wolf and the lamb living together, achieving a mutual respect and harmony that the traditional roles of predator and prey do not allow. Is that what we should be praying for today; and if so, how does it work out in our own lives as well as internationally?
*the lion eating straw like the ox is not to my purpose today but will be saved for another time.