Apr
2017

Week 7: Holy Week “The Way of the Servant”: The Way of Discipleship

Wednesday, April 12

“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.

 The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
 It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
(Isaiah 50:4-9a).

Translators struggle with the first verse of this Song: is the Servant given the “tongue of a teacher” (NRSV), a “skilled tongue” (JPSV), an “instructed tongue” (NIV), or perhaps the “tongue of the learned” (KJV)? Yet, when the same word, limmudim, appears later in the verse, it causes little controversy: “Morning by morning he wakens — wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught (Isa 50:4; emphasis mine). That, I propose, should also be the translation the first time this word appears: the Servant is given “the tongue of those who are taught”: that is, the tongue of a disciple. Confirmation comes from the purpose of this gift: “that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word” (50:4). Surely, a word of comfort comes most effectively from a fellow disciple, who shares my sorrow, feels my pain, and offers solace as a fellow sufferer.

In this Song, the Servant does not claim authority over others. Indeed, the Servant identifies with the outcast and humiliated, to the point of sharing their humiliation and suffering:

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 (50:6).

The Servant’s suffering is not accidental, but purposeful. The Servant suffers deliberately, in solidarity with others, so that the vindication of the Servant becomes their vindication, too.

Unfortunately, today’s lectionary reading ends in the middle of verse 9, leaving the unfortunate implication that trust in God removes all our difficulties. The Servant relies upon the Lord, but that does not make his path clear, or easy. Instead, the Servant

walks in darkness

                        and has no light,

            yet trusts in the name of the LORD

                        and relies upon his God (Isa 50:10).

Certainly, in this week, no Christian reader can consider this passage without remembering how Jesus bared his back to the smiters, and offered his cheek “to those who pulled out the beard” (50:6). What might it mean for us to follow him as his disciples on the way of the Servant, to surrender authority and privilege, and stand with the suffering and oppressed?

Prayer: Jesus, in just a few days we will rejoice in the celebration of Easter. But don’t let us hurry to the empty tomb too quickly. Help us stay with the cross awhile, and ask how we may follow you, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). In your own holy name, Amen.

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