Commentary on Isaiah 50:4-9
The Third Song of the Servant of Yahweh.
(The Fourth and last Song will be read during the liturgy of Good Friday.)
Another ‘Servant’ passage from Isaiah which speaks very graphically of what Jesus will go through in his passion. God provides his Servant with the words he needs to speak, especially for those who need encouragement. And Jesus will speak words of encouragement to his disciples before his Passion. He will speak to the women who sympathise with him on the way to Calvary.
“The Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple’s tongue… to give a word of comfort to the weary.” Jesus is the Word of God, communicating God’s love and encouragement. Later, Jesus will say: “Come to me, all of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your spirit” (Matt11:28-29).
“He makes my ear alert, to listen like a disciple… has opened my ear and I have not resisted.” A way of describing the total submission of Jesus to his Father. “Even though he was God’s Son, he learnt through his sufferings to be obedient” (Heb 5:8). “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Phil 2:7). In this he is in contrast to a rebellious Israel. In the Gospel, Jesus tells frequently tells his disciples to listen; in other words, to submit totally to the Way of life to which he is calling them.
“I have not resisted, I have not turned away…” This will be described in greater detail in the Fourth Song. The Servant willingly submits to insults and beatings and will not return in kind. To do so would be to bring himself down to the level of his attackers. Plucking the beard was a great insult. He offers his back for a beating, something given only to criminals and fools. This, of course, will happen during the scourging. Similarly for the mocking and spitting. It requires great inner strength not to respond in kind to such provocation. But when it is undergone with dignity, it is the attacker who seems small.
The Servant makes no resistance to his attackers. He will not meet violence with violence. He will not resist when he is beaten, when his beard is plucked, when he is struck and spat upon. However, it must be made very clear that this is not weakness but a sign of great inner strength and peace.
“Lord Yahweh comes to my help, this is why insult has not touched me, this is why I have set my face like flint and know that I will not be put to shame.” God comes to his help so that he is “untouched by the insults”. This is the sign of the inner security and strength. Insults and violence cannot change the inner reality of the person. And ultimately the Lord is on his side. Insults are either true or false. If they are true, they are not really insults but simply a statement of fact. If they are false, they can be ignored. In either case, to respond with violence is to show weakness and insecurity.
He meets insults and physical attacks with firmness. He will not be turned away from the way that the Father is asking him to go. Knowing that the ultimate outcome will not be shame but vindication and glory. “The Lord God is my help.” Towards the end of his public life, we are told that Jesus “resolutely set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51)
“Who has a case against me? Let us appear in court together!… Look, Lord Yahweh is coming to my help!” Jesus is perfectly innocent of all the charges thrown against him. He has no fear of court proceedings, even when they are corrupt. Final vindication will be his.
We could reflect today on how we respond to criticisms, statements about us we regard as unfair or untrue. Are we prone to violence – physical or verbal? And, even if we do not respond externally, do we allow statements and events to turn us into cauldrons of anger, hatred, anxiety and tension?
The way of Jesus is the way to peace.