In four different passages in the book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks of the Suffering Servant (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13– 53:12). We understand the Servant as a universal figure standing for all who suffer. The Servant might have been modeled on a historical person like Hezekiah, Josiah, or Cyrus. Christians can see Jesus in this model as one who is unjustly accused, who suffers for righteousness and waits for vindication.
Isaiah’s words mean one thing to the original audience and can mean something different to a later age. The message is not bound to one situation but is thick with meaning. The many layers of meaning in scripture help us continually reinterpret the past in light of the present’s demands, which a living, dynamic faith requires.
The words of the Suffering Servant reveal the wisdom of one who knows how to hold things in balance—speaking and listening, honor and humility, acting and acceptance. The Servant offers his face to be spit on, accepts the insult and shame, because he knows the One who will vindicate him is near. That kind of humility might seem passive and powerless to some, but passivity does not drive the Servant’s actions: confidence does. He knows God will be his vindication.
Most of us will never know the level of indignity and pain suffered by the Servant. But we all experience moments when we must choose how we will respond to pain and injustice around us. We can choose to respond to the angry voices we hear by trading insult for insult, or we can be guided by the Servant’s equanimity. The Servant stands without shame or hostility and as a reminder for all who suffer that God has transformed suffering into triumph in Christ.
Lord, help me speak and listen and learn to respond to the challenges I face with the confidence that you are my vindication. Amen.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Psalm 118 is a song of rejoicing, yet it also includes the prophecy that the cornerstone must experience rejection. Isaiah speaks of physical suffering, of being beaten, disgraced, and spat on. We see elements of this in the Gospel reading, where Luke describes the final moments of Jesus’ life. Bloodied and beaten, Jesus hangs on the cross and breathes his last. In Philippians, Paul places this drama within the eternal narrative of God’s redeeming work. Jesus leaves his rightful place and becomes flesh. He experiences pain and suffering, even the most humiliating form of death, crucifixion. Jesus can empathize with our suffering because he has suffered. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Read Isaiah 50:4-9a. How does the Suffering Servant speak to your life today?
Read Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. How do you hear differently the familiar verses of this psalm when you read them together?
Read Philippians 2:5-11. Do you find it paradoxical to live as a beloved child of God and as a servant? If so, how do you live in this paradox?
Read Luke 19:28-40. How do you experience the extreme emotional highs and lows of Palm Sunday and Holy Week, even knowing how it will all turn out?
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