Isaiah 53 1:17
Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering* and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces*
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
April 17 may be celebrated as Palm Sunday (remembering Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem before his Crucifixion) or Passion Sunday (remembering the Crucifixion itself) . . . or both. This week, instead of the usual narratives of Holy Week, we will read from the Book of Isaiah in the Hebrew Scriptures. Our reading comes from a section of Isaiah which focuses on the figure of the “Suffering Servant.” When originally written, this image gave hope to Israel at a dark time. Later, Christians appropriated the reading and saw it as a prediction of the coming of Christ. In any case, it is a deeply moving image of one who is treated roughly, despised, and rejected but who lifts no complaint; rather, the Servant remains as a figure of hope.
In the 10:30 service this week, there will not be a traditional sermon. Rather, we will read the well-loved Oscar Wilde tale of The Selfish Giant, with accompanying music. The children of our congregation will be on hand for the reading. Wilde’s story tells of a child who changes everything around him and who suffers in the end . . . clearly a Christ figure.
We welcome comments on this site about the Isaiah passage. Here are some questions to prompt those comments:
1. The “Servant” is clearly described as one who is “despised and rejected.” What is it in human psychology or in human nature that often has us despising the very one who bears healing for us?
2. Invoking the figure of the “scapegoat” (an animal who, in Jewish practice, had all of the sins of the people loaded on him before he was hounded out of town), Isaiah imagines the Suffering Servant as one who bears our infirmities and is wounded for our transgressions. In what ways is this a meaningful image for you . . . or not?
3. The text says that the Servant will be “oppressed and afflicted,” but that he will not open his mouth in complaint. Some critiques of Christianity suggest that it calls for compliant suffering which may involve having a victim mentality. Is it possible to read this passage without positing a figure who accepts punishment unnecessarily or inappropriately?
Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian