Suffering With Us

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

"The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 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 50:4-6].

Isaiah's fiftieth chapter includes one of its four sections that Christians especially say describe the "suffering servant," and whom many Christians associate with Jesus and his death on a cross.

This time reading through Isaiah 50, I am surprised at how the first thing that the Suffering Servant describes is a connection between being able to teach and to listen. God gives him the tongue of a teacher, but God also wakens the Servant's "ear to listen as those who are taught."

I take from this that in order to speak and teach with authority one must also or first be able to listen to others and with an understanding of what is needed by those who are being taught. To some degree, that perspective is integral to a notion of the Incarnation (God showing up in human life)—that it's not just humans who need God to show up but that God benefits from taking on human life. Perhaps taking on human life allows God through Jesus to see life differently.

Listening and teaching are forms of attentiveness, when we choose to enter into a connection and to stay true to it through our attention to each other. The Servant shifts from the attentiveness and fidelity of teacher and student to that of God and servant ("God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious") and then shifts to the connection between perpetrator of violence and suffering servant. The Suffering Servant will not let the violence perpetrated against him allow his connection to that perpetrator waver or his obedience to God waver.

It's no wonder then that we read Isaiah 50 as we prepare to behold Jesus on the cross, because on that cross it seems that Jesus does not allow his relationship of love to his enemies be destroyed by their violence.

Jesus is gracious to his betraying, abandoning, and denying disciples; he forgives his crucifiers; he does not fight back even when urged to do so; he offers a thief being crucified next to him to enter paradise that very day! And like the Suffering Servant, Jesus does not let his obedience to God waver. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God's peace, universal love, and commitment to God's people. He cannot abandon his mission; he cannot abandon God's people, even if it means losing his life.

On Sunday afternoon, I led the last Confirmation 2 session with our ninth graders before the thirteen of them will be confirmed on May 6th. In my review with them, I asked them: What does God promise or not promise to humankind? Their most common answer was that God promises not to abandon us.

Sounds like they've been great listeners in worship and in class, and that means they might be great Christian leaders, too! Thank you, God, that they're experiencing your faithfulness to us and your undying love! May they face the challenges of their lives with your love in their hearts!

-Rev. Adam

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