Thursday, October 22, 2009

Here is my servant, whom I have chosen

When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, and he ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,

my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.

I will put my Spirit upon him,

and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

He will not wrangle or cry aloud,

nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.

He will not break a bruised reed

or quench a smouldering wick

until he brings justice to victory.

And in his name the Gentiles will hope.’

- Matthew 12:15-21

In yesterday's reading, we are given to understand that the Pharisees, provoked by Jesus' healing on the Sabbath, have begun to plot against him, "in order to destroy him." The crowds follow him, nevertheless, seeking healing, which Jesus gives in abundance. We are told here that "he cured all of them." He orders all of those who have received his healing not to speak about it, "not to make him known." We recall his words elsewhere in the gospels, for example from John 10:18 "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father." Throughout the gospels, it is Jesus who chooses his time and place, and when he will reveal himself and to whom.

In Isaiah's prophecy, we see this prediction that he will not reveal himself until all is fulfilled. Jesus does not disclose his identity as Messiah to the Jewish population until he has fulfilled his journey and his ministry among the Gentiles. My study bible notes that the reasons for concealment of his messianic identity include 1) the growing hostility of the Jewish leaders, 2) the people's misunderstanding of messiahship as political and earthly, and 3) Jesus' desire to evoke the response of faith -- He wants people to discover His identity for themselves.

Isaiah emphasizes the quality of servitude - Jesus fulfills the promise of the "Suffering Servant." Again, my study bible has a helpful note: "the Servant of God refers both to the Messiah and to all God's elect." And of course, we also read into these words of prophecy the understanding of the Messiah's mission to all, including the Gentile world and the presence of the Church that will expand to all.

In Isaiah's prophecy, we also read the great paradox of spiritual reality and power, the logic of the kingdom. This is a "Suffering Servant." "He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick..." He is meek and gentle. Jesus is not a political messiah who brings himself to power at the point of a sword. He rather hides himself until the very end, when it is his time to go to Jerusalem and thus begins his Passion. As we have seen, he teaches his ministers to "shake the dust from their feet" when they encounter people who don't wish to hear their message, and to simply move on to the next town. They are to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

His meekness and gentleness of manner, without a great proclamation of himself, will continue, according to Isaiah, "until he brings justice to victory." For myself, I read into these words the understanding of the fulfillment of the Law, the expansion and understanding of our notions of justice through his ministry and teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount, he has revealed his great teachings of what it means to embody justice and to practice the law in full. And so, we have our hope, and we continue to hope in his name, as Isaiah so eloquently prophesied.

In these elegant words, we are to understand the paradox of beauty of this ministry and Christ's teaching. In Tuesday's reading, we were told that his "yoke is easy and his burden is light." His kindness and gentleness to us is reflected in this relationship. His meekness in his mission remains the necessary condition for those who would follow him of their heart, because they choose to love him. The power of this kingdom works in ways that are hidden; it "breaks in" upon those who would receive it, who are ready to hear and to understand - for which we need spiritual eyes and ears to see and to hear. His mission to all of us is in spirit and in truth: we receive it with our hearts which must be open to receive. We understand this power to be that in which "the greatest among you must be the servant of all."

How does this mission work today? With what ministry is it taught and received? How do we contain this knowledge and receive it within our hearts? We understand its proclamation, Jesus' Passion, and thousands of years of history of Church among the Gentile world. Yet we still hope in his name, we still pray for his justice, we still must receive with our hearts.

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