Today’s lectionary reading comes from Isaiah 35. I was especially struck by verses 6-9:

Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.  The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there…

Most English versions of the Bible (including this one, the NRSV) speak of the way of holiness as a “highway.” Now I’m sure that a “highway” in ancient Israel was nothing like our “highways” today. Yet we moderns tend y to read the Bible in modern terms, and jump to wrong-headed conclusions as a result. This passage’s reference to the “highway” of faith is a good example.

After hearing several generations of believers describe their experiences, I don’t recall any of them describe the way of faith as a “highway” in our contemporary sense of the term — i.e., it’s neither fast, nor smooth, nor unmistakeably marked. Travel on this “Way” requires constant vigilance and care.

This thought promoted me to turn attention to verse 8. The KJV says there: “Wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.” I always found great comfort in that promise: It implied that I wouldn’t go astray so long as I sincerely tried to follow the Lord, even if I were a foolish disciple.

But is that really what the prophet said?

Experience says otherwise. The Way is littered with wrecks of well-intentioned yet foolish travelers who did “err therein.” Too many overreaching, overconfident believers think they can “put the pedal to the metal” on The Way, but life proves otherwise.

The NRSV renders the Hebrew of verse 8 this way: “Wicked fools will not go about on it.” That’s affirmed by verse 9, which says, “Only the redeemed will walk there.” This makes better sense in the context, and it reassures me in with a different perspective: There are no wreckless drivers on The Way, so it’s usually safe to follow another believer’s tail lights through the snowstorms of life.

But even then, we can’t let down our guard, morally or otherwise. We can’t put our lives on “auto pilot” and assume we’ll reach our destination safely, just because we’re traveling on The Way.

Let’s “rejoice and be glad” that we’re traveling the Way of Holiness. But let’s not kid ourselves. It ain’t no Interstate.