by Father Mike Stubbs
When the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., they were responding to actions which they interpreted as the Israelites’ rebellion against the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.
Similarly, when the Romans destroyed the city in 70 A.D., 500 years later, it was because of the Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire.
Clearly, there was a history of rebellion among the people of Israel. Perhaps that is how the image of rebellion came to describe sin against God, their rightful Lord. Refusing to obey God’s law would constitute rebellion in the truest sense of the word. It would be more serious than disobeying an earthly king.
In Sunday’s first reading, Is 50:5-9a, the speaker assures us: “I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” In other words, he has obeyed God’s commandments. This restates what he said in the preceding verse: “The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear.” God’s grace has opened and enabled him to hear God’s word, and to live according to it.
The person speaking is that mysterious figure sometimes called the Suffering Servant. This verse describes those torments in vivid detail: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”
This mistreatment of the Suffering Servant has led Christians to identify him with Jesus during his passion, who was similarly beaten and insulted. But perhaps the most important point of correspondence lies in the Suffering Servant’s complete trust in God. Twice, the Suffering Servant proclaims: “The Lord God is my help.” Despite those tortures, the Suffering Servant knows that God will come to his aid.
This confidence in God strengthens the Suffering Servant and enables him to withstand this abuse: “I have set my face like flint.” His reliance upon God will carry him through.
The figure of the Suffering Servant anticipates Jesus in his passion and death. It offers us insights into Jesus at this most significant moment of his life. At the same time, the figure of the Suffering Servant provides us with a model to follow. It shows us how to find strength in the face of suffering, by relying upon God, and not upon ourselves.
As we acknowledge God as our king, as we open our ears to hear and obey God’s word, we will remain God’s true and loyal servant, as Jesus was.