by Father Mike Stubbs
Most households today cannot afford to employ servants. But a hundred years ago, that was a frequent practice among the wealthy.
At the same time, the servants were kept to the background. Sometimes the house was constructed with a staircase specifically for the servants, to separate them from the family. The servant was an employee, not a member of the family. He was meant to stay out of sight.
In the book of the prophet Isaiah, a mysterious figure appears who is identified as God’s servant. No name is given to this person, but this servant of God seems to anticipate Jesus Christ, especially in the aspects of his suffering and death. Accordingly, later Christian tradition relies on Isaiah’s prophecy in understanding Jesus’ final hours.
Sunday’s first reading — Is 50:4c-9a — describes God’s servant as humbly submitting to persecution at the hands of his enemies. This mistreatment includes physical beatings and demeaning insults, spitting in his face and plucking his beard. Yet, through it all, God’s servant is able to hold fast, because he believes that God will rescue him. Twice he repeats the words: “The Lord God is my help.” That phrase expresses his confidence in his ultimate victory because of God.
Despite all appearances to the contrary, in submitting to his enemies, God’s servant is not obeying them, but instead is obeying God. The servant makes that clear by declaring: “The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” It is God that the servant has not rebelled against, not his enemies. God remains the ultimate authority for the servant in all that happens to him.
Even though the enemies appear to hold the upper hand, that is only temporary. God is the one calling the shots. God will eventually prevail.
In other words, the servant is not relying upon his own strength of character, his own internal resources, to resist his enemies. Instead, he depends completely upon God. That reliance apparently allows him to acquiesce to his enemies.
When Jesus Christ went through his passion and death on the cross, he appeared to submit to the Roman authorities who were putting him to death. He did not resist. At the same time, he received strength from his faith in God to endure those sufferings. He was confident that God would eventually vindicate him. That vindication arrives in the form of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. The mystery of the resurrection makes it abundantly clear that God is truly the help of those who have faith.
As the servant had affirmed centuries earlier: “The Lord God is my help.”