The Lord God Helps Me

Wednesday in Holy Week
Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

“I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6)

On Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week we have been presented with the figure of the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah. The Servant of the Lord is a figure who represents God’s steadfast faithfulness and kindness to Israel and his promise to bring them home from exile.

But we have also seen how this Servant is not just sent to Israel. It would be too small a thing for God’s Servant simply to restore one nation. Rather, God sends his Servant to the end of the earth that all families and nations and people might know his salvation. The Servant is a light to the nations, illuminating all those who sit in darkness with the divine light.

In our reading from Isaiah today, the third of Isaiah’s Servant Songs, this theme is continued in a darker though more confident tone. The Servant, we are reminded is a prophet, one who has received the Word of God so that he might reveal it to others. Unlike Israel themselves, the Servant is not rebellious, he does not turn back from the way that the Lord has set before him. Thus, the Servant is faithful where Israel was not, he does what Israel was called but ultimately failed to do.

Yet, when God presents his Servant to Israel and to the nations for their salvation he is not received. In fact, he is opposed, reviled, and rejected. Even still the Servant does not shrink away but stands firm against all of the insults hurled at him by others: “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.”

Holy Week does not tell the story of our acceptance of Jesus Christ. Rather, it tells the story of our sinful rejection of him unto death, even death on a Cross. We like to think that if God came to us we would accept him. But Holy Week interrupts this narrative with the truth: God came to us and we crucified him.

And the rejection of God by the world isn’t just limited to Holy Week. As one theologian explains: “What once happened in history…nonetheless makes visible what has been happening in the entire human tragedy, from beginning to end: God is “struck” and contemptuously “spat upon” as he humbles himself to the uttermost for us, as he takes our rubbish upon himself.”[1] God does not embrace us because we embraced him. God embraces us because we cannot embrace him, because we refuse to embrace him, because we exclude and condemn and crucify him. Nevertheless he loves. Nevertheless he comes. Nevertheless he serves.

“The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.” Despite all appearances to the contrary the Servant knows that his mission is not in vain (cf. Is 49:4). He has been chosen by God and endowed with the Spirit for this very purpose. Therefore, the Lord will vindicate his Servant, his rejection will be his victory to the glory of God, and no one who stands against him will prosper.

[1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Light of the World, 62.

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