Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.  [Mt 3:3]
- A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! [Is 40:3].
- It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” [Mt 3:3]
- He said: “I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the desert, “Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” [Jn 1:23]
Three versions of the same message…the original prophecy in Isaiah, the passage used as third party identification for the Baptist in Matthew, and the Baptist’s own use of a conflated version of the passage as his calling card…Having said all that, what does this enigmatic phrase mean…How do I prepare the way of the Lord, let alone make His paths straight???
What is this “way of the Lord?” Later on, Jesus will call himself the Way. Are they the same Way or only related, since both originate from the Lord? And since this is before Jesus appears on the scene, how am I to interpret “the way” in pre-Jesus terms.
Interestingly, the first occurrence of “way” in the Hebrew Scriptures is: When he expelled the man, he settled him east of the garden of Eden; and he stationed the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword, to guard the way to the tree of life. [Gen 3:24] I don’t think that this was by accident. First, God does not do things by accident, and second, the Holy Spirit does not inspire the writers of Scripture to write anything by accident. This being said, I must conclude that “the way” has to do with how one reaches and eats the fruit of the tree of Life…which becomes even more true in the New Testament where Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, [Jn 14:6] and insists that unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. [Jn 6:53] Thus, we come full circle: God has given us a “way” to the tree of life in His Son, Jesus, and we can eat Him and have life eternal.
The second occurrence clarifies another aspect of the “way”. The LORD is pondering: Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do about Sodom. [Gen 18:17] In reasoning that He should tell him, He states: Indeed, I have singled him out that he may direct his sons and his posterity to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD may carry into effect for Abraham the promises he made about him. [Gen 18:19] Here, the “way” is adherence to God’s plan for mankind, doing what is right and just.
To what is right and just means to follow Jesus, for the right and just way now is defined by Jesus; He is the way. To me, to you, to each and every person that ever lived, yesterday, today, tomorrow, Jesus says, “Follow me.” [Mt 9:9]…when we hear the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” we are prompted by the Spirit to answer “Here I am,” I said; “send me! [Is 6:8]…when we are called in a dream: Susan! James! Kim Jung! Aslam! Solomon, our Eli tells us to reply: Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.[1 Sam 3:9]
What does “doing what is right and just” mean today, here, now, in 2015. The rest of the references to “way” in the Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament mostly are the myriad of references to direction or usual course of action. These are mirrors of my ways, to where I go and what I do…the mystery of God’s will is that it is fulfilled in the everyday, little things of life. I use to think that God’s will was something huge, dramatic, saving the world, feeding the starving millions, stopping the violence of the world…and it is. But my part in those efforts, in His plan for humanity, for salvation, in that preparing the way of the Lord, in that straightening His paths, is a very teeny, tiny part of the whole effort, the whole working of the one Body of Christ, the whole groaning of creation. My little effort today, in this minute, caring for this family, these dogs, praying for this person, buying this can of food for the pantry, smiling at this person, changing this diaper, writing this report, putting up this stud, dealing with this customer, attending this Mass, taking this shower, putting one foot in front of the other…this is my answer to His call, my repentance, my “making sorry,” my preparing the way for the advent of the fullness of His Kingdom, my straightening out His paths in my own life, my own family, my own town, my own corner of the world, making it His world,…This is my not just saying but doing sorry for the my sins.
This straightening includes giving food to the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the ill, visiting prisoners [Mt 25:35-36]. This path includes going and making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit [Mt 28:19], every moment of every day, at work, at home, at the store, at the mall, in little ways, being nice to this cashier, smiling at that stranger, helping this old man cross the street, carry his groceries, get up the stairs…ways of making disciples of all, when necessary using words.
This is the preparation of the way, the straightening of the paths on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis…doing the will of God as it is knocking on the door of my life right now. This is the “daily” in the phrase: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. [Lk 9:23] So pick up that knife and chop that salad, yank the cord and start up that motor; put on your boots and shovel that snow, open up that laptop and type out that report, take your smart phone and text that apology, turn your head and smile that smile, that reaching out and touching someone who needs a boost right here, right now…and watch those paths straighten out in front of you. Amen. Alleluia!!!
 Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.