Here is My Servant

Monday in Holy Week
Reading: Isaiah 42:1-9

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1)

In our Holy Week liturgies over these next three days, and then again on Good Friday, we will be presented with the figure of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. “Here is my servant,” says the Lord. Who will do what? Establish justice in the earth.

God’s Word is here addressed to Israel in exile. Both Judah and Jerusalem have been sacked by the Babylonian Empire and many Israelites have been led captive to Babylon. That exterior desolation and darkness is intensified by an interior desolation and darkness: Are we still God’s people? Has he forsaken us? Is God still God? Babylon has triumphed, after all.

It is important to note that the Scriptures take seriously this very real sense of Godforsakenness. Parents bury their children, loved one’s fall sick, the world burns. Naturally, this raises questions: Where is God? Does he still care for us? Is God still God? It can be tempting for people of faith to gloss over or deny the darkness of the world but the Scriptures do not do this. Rather, they presuppose the darkness. Faith does not preclude suffering. No one escapes, not even Israel.

It is to this world—not some ideal world but this actual bent-out-of-shape and dark world—that God presents his Servant: chosen, endowed with the spirit, humble, and compassionate.

The Church has understood this Servant to be Jesus Christ, whom Mary anointed with costly nard in John’s gospel. Jesus Christ, God’s well beloved Son, whom the Spirit anointed at his baptism, who suffers with and for Israel, and the Church, and you and I, and the whole wide world.

He is God’s agent of justice. He serves God faithfully by judging the world, by straightening out what is bent, by setting things right, by weeding the garden and burning up what does not belong so that God’s good creation might come more fully alive.

“He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street.” That is to say, God’s servant is not a showman, he is not interested in celebrity or in drawing attention to himself but in his loving obedience glorifies the Father who is in heaven. Jesus Christ comes only to serve.

Over the next week we’ll be hearing a lot more about this servant but today let us end on this note: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.” Words cannot adequately express the gentleness with which Jesus brings God’s justice to earth. He does not bring forth justice by might or force, but by patiently, quietly, and lovingly taking the weight of the world’s suffering and sin on himself. He does not steamroll those who are weak, but comes alongside them as the light that shines on the tragic history of both Israel and the world, who brings sight and liberation to all those who sit in darkness. And he never tires, but perseveres until the work is done.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1)

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