This scripture opens with Isaiah’s wonder and gratitude over the rich gifts God has given him: the depth and eloquence of a true teacher, the healing power to renew those who are weary, and the openness that hears what God says to the heart. But then he speaks of the underlying empowerment without which these gifts would be useless.
“I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.” With each gift, the risks and cost of love intensify. Without God’s strength to keep moving forward, our gifts atrophy. Anyone who loves, anyone who serves, knows that as we use our gifts we will experience times of antagonism and hostility as well as times of love and appreciation. Our scripture reading refers to insults, blows, and spitting in scorn. There are many ways of being struck or spat upon, and often they are not bodily attacks. Verbal, emotional, or competitive attacks can inflict deeper wounds than bodily ones.
But we are asked to keep moving forward. Our first reading of this scripture seems to imply that we are urged to submit passively to abuse. A more careful reading gives a totally different picture. As I read the passage, I remember the poignant, powerful television pictures from our not-too-distant past of school children surrounded, embraced, supported by parents and neighbors as they walked forward steadily to their school each morning for many weeks through the shouts and insults of angry crowds hostile to their race.
This picture is not one of passivity to abuse but of a forward motion of immense power, going through one’s chosen gates with both face and back vulnerable, knowing that God does not promise safety but limitless strength.
God of peace and empowerment, may I walk forward as Jesus did, not as a victim but as a child within your light. Amen.
This week’s readings prepare us for Palm Sunday, a joyous event. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, a symbol of kingship in ancient Israel. The people greet him with loud acclamations. He is coming in the name of the Lord! Standing along the road leading into Jerusalem, how could anyone imagine what would happen that following week? Wasn’t Jesus finally going to manifest the fullness of God’s power, take his place on the throne of David, and overthrow the Romans? No, because that was not his mission. He came not to build an earthly kingdom but to lay aside his rights. He came to be glorified by being humiliated . . . for us. He came to suffer and die . . . for us.
• Read Isaiah 50:4-9a. What situations have called you to move forward in vulnerability, “knowing that God promises not safety but limitless strength”?
• Read Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. When have you claimed God’s strength to see you through “the gates of righteousness”?
• Read Mark 11:1-11, 15-18. In a trying time in your life, when have you turned to the love and care of friends? How have you experienced God’s entering your life calmly and gently?
• Read Philippians 2:5-11. How does this early Christian hymn of the church speak to you as you enter Holy Week?
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