Sunday, October 22, 2006

Isaiah 53:4-12 (Year B, Proper 24; 20 Pentecost)

Today's appointed OT reading is Isaiah 53:4-12. The text is the best known and weightiest of the famous Servant Songs of Isaiah (Isa 42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12; and 61:1–3). These Songs are difficult texts to interpret; in fact, they are among the most controversial passages of Scripture. Before diving in and expositing them, you need to think hard about the identity of the Song's chief protagonist. Most often, at least in my hearing, people in the pulpit get this wrong---quite wrong! Who is the Servant of the Lord?

I recommend approaching the Servant Songs as theological and spiritual meditations. Their hero is no figure of history but an artistic study. What we have here is a superb portrait of ideal servanthood.

The portrait did not emerge out of thin air but echoes preceding Scriptures, especially the Bible’s courageous servants of old. One can justly speak of the Servant as old Abraham himself. The Servant is also Sarah, David, and Jeremiah. He is the best of all of these figures, merged into one person. The poets who created the Servant Songs must have studied and prayed long and hard over Israel’s Scriptures. Out of scriptural building blocks, they constructed a figure who encapsulates the Bible’s highest aspirations for human nature. In the Suffering Servant, they present us with an ideal human being in the true image of God, who holds nothing back but gives everything in love.

The language of the Songs describing the Suffering Servant is radically open to the future. Rather than expressing one person’s ancient, dusty religious experience, it empowers readers of all time to live in a radically new way. This is poetic language with power, seeking to incarnate itself within anyone willing to embrace it.


Blogger Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


What an excellent post. I too noticed long ago the changing pronouns in the Servant Songs. At times the Servant is a "he" and then at others it is a "she." I think that when Israel elected Golda Mayer they pointed to the "she" portion of the Servant Songs. At least, this is what my many Israeli friends tell me when we discuss historical politics.

Mon Oct 23, 08:26:00 AM GMT-5  

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