The Suffering Servant delighted in his ability to strengthen and encourage his fellow exiles with the right words. He was able to do this because he also had the ability to listen carefully to the voice of God that came to him each day. Photo by Andraz Lazic on Unsplash

God's Word on Sunday: Suffering Servant challenges us to listen

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  • March 21, 2021

Passion (Palm) Sunday, March 28 (Year B) Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

Words can wound or heal, tear down or build up, strengthen or weaken and give hope or break spirits. Everything depends on what is spoken and the manner in which is delivered. It has nothing to do with eloquence or rhetorical skill. The words must be suitable to the person and situation and delivered with care and compassion.

The Suffering Servant — an anonymous figure in the Babylonian exile — delighted in his ability to strengthen and encourage his fellow exiles with the right words. He was able to do this because he also had the ability to listen carefully to the voice of God that came to him each day.

It was not a matter of his own opinions, for his consciousness was being formed by God. Having heard these words of guidance, he took them to heart and applied them to life itself. He did not argue with the words, nor did he resist, although he probably was aware that he would meet opposition.

The certainty that his words and teaching were not his own but from God gave the Servant great courage and strength. He was able to “set his face like flint” in the face of persecution and rejection. In the same way, Jesus would turn and “set His face towards Jerusalem” in Luke 9:51, knowing full well what awaited Him.

There is no shortage of spoken and written words in our world — many of them venomous and intended to do harm. Most of them are born of fear and focus on the self. Often, they express commonly held opinions and prejudices.

The Suffering Servant challenges us to be still and silent, listening for the firm but gentle voice that speaks to the deepest part of our soul. We can then become a channel rather than a weapon and can make a huge contribution towards the healing of our world and the enlightenment of humanity.

The world values strength, dominance, personal success, pleasing appearance and status. These are the qualities people look for in leaders, stars and cultural icons. In God’s kingdom a different set of values apply, all expressed perfectly in the life of Jesus.

The Lord willingly laid aside glory, strength and divine status for the sake of humanity and the world. Jesus was ruled by love rather than by fear. He subjected Himself to physical and psychological vulnerability, as well as contempt and dishonour.

The willingness to accept all of these things, as well as death on the cross, became the source of His exaltation and status as the one to whom all honour and obedience must be given. When we are openhanded and giving of self, we are never diminished and we do not suffer loss.

The Gospel of Mark paints a very stark and grim portrait of the passion of Jesus. Mark used the Suffering Servant from Isaiah as the model for Jesus. Luke and John gave the passion a different colouring — Jesus was less the victim and was in far greater control of His fate.

Mark’s Gospel reflects betrayal, misunderstanding, abandonment by all near and dear to Jesus, as well as persecution and immense suffering. On the cross, His cry of anguish implied abandonment even by God.

Throughout His lifetime, and especially during the passion, Jesus was at the mercy of the entire range of human weaknesses: fear, lust for power, selfishness, fickleness, treachery and cowardice. He dealt constantly with human ignorance and incomprehension — even on the part of His own disciples.

This was all part of the divine humiliation that Jesus was willing to experience so that He could renew and restore humanity by His example and teaching. His example revealed the nature and face of God to us. Jesus did so because He thought that we were worth it.

He stands beside us now and walks with us, especially with those that are persecuted, treated unjustly and wounded in body and soul. We will meet and deal with those same human weaknesses during our lifetimes, both in other people and in ourselves.

Being a follower of Jesus is not a free pass to avoid life’s struggles. But we have some very effective tools at our disposal: patience, compassion and forgiveness. They worked for Jesus and they will also work for us.

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