by Father Mike Stubbs
In many large houses a century-old or so, a secondary, smaller staircase, in addition to the principal staircase, connected the various floors. The principal staircase was set aside for the use of family members and guests, while the secondary staircase was intended for the servants. Usually the servants lodged in the attic, considered to be less desirable than the lower floors.
Few families have live-in servants anymore. They belong to a different era. But, once, it was very common, especially for the wealthy, to employ servants. They were also very common when the Bible was being written.
In Sunday’s first reading — Is 49:3, 5-6 — the word “servant” appears three times. An unnamed person is identified as the Lord’s servant.
The term “servant” clearly suggests a subordinate role. The servant accomplishes the will of the master.
But there is more to it than that. Frequently, the servant was considered part of the household. There was a tie that went beyond that of the modern employer- employee relationship. The master felt a certain responsibility toward the servants because of his superior status. In a sense, the servant belonged to the family, even though he or she occupied the lowest rank.
In reflecting upon the reading from Isaiah, it is important to remember that nuance concerning the role of the servant of the Lord. He or she is not just a person who happens to work for God. A specific relationship has developed between the two. Ties of loyalty and affection bind the servant to the Lord.
Conversely, the Lord feels a responsibility toward the servant. The obligations between the two extend far beyond the payment of wages and the performance of duties. They approach the level of covenant.
In the Christian tradition, we identify the servant of the Lord described in Isaiah as Jesus Christ. In his life on earth, he fulfills the will of God the Father. To accomplish his mission, he lowers himself, even though he is divine. He behaves as an underling, as a servant.
That makes it all the more dramatic when God claims Jesus as a son. It is
an astonishing reversal of fortunes — on the level of the pauper being revealed as the prince. God announces this claim at the moment of Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus’ status as God’s son, revealed at his baptism, is definitively confirmed when he rises from the dead on Easter. Through the resurrection, it is made clear to all that Jesus is not only the servant of the Lord, but also the Son of God.
In that sense, Jesus’ baptism looks forward to his resurrection. It anticipates Easter.