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Pre Paid Service

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Last Tuesday I went to see my mother early in the morning, hoping to see any of her doctors. I remain impressed with the ability of science to prolong life; I continue to hear about new radical procedures that doctors are able to perform now that were not available just a few weeks ago. But looking at my mother in I.C.U.; I am also aware that science can as well prolong suffering. How do we balance our desire to prolong life, with our hope to decrease suffering?

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.  The text that we read this evening in the book of the prophet Isaiah is referred to as the suffering servant passage.  It is a passage that biblical scholars cannot agree as to who it refers to.  Some believe that the suffering servant is the prophet Isaiah himself. Others see him as Zerubbabel, Darius, Moses and even the people of Israel.

But when we read the gospel and even the apostolic letters we find that the text of Isaiah was used as a job description of Jesus life and ministry. Matthew, Luke, Mark, John and even Paul go into small details of how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. Tonight, I want to concentrate on just three ideas found in this long passage from Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah tells us that there was nothing particularly attractive of this servant.  “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Why did Isaiah share this information about the suffering servant? What is the purpose of this information, what is it supposed to tell us about God and ourselves?

The New York City news media have been reporting about a woman who went to a friend to have her injected with Botox. She had a reaction and died. Her friend was not a doctor nor did she work in the healthcare industry. It seems that we would do anything and run any risk in order to look better. We spend billions of dollars and undergo thousand of surgeries. Appearances are extremely important to our society. Isaiah speaks about one who comes and has no beauty or obvious power; one who has nothing in his appearance that would make us feel attracted to him. Jesus was an average man, a working class person of an unimportant town of Israel. The gospel of John tells us that when Philip went to tell Nathanael that they had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph; Nathanael responded: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

Jesus came to free us from our slavery to our image and appearance. Only God’s image is important now. God came to free us from our need to receive the approvals of others and our continuous falling prisoner to peer pressure. We know now that in Christ we are approved, that we have been accepted. Our sense of value does not come from what others think or say; nor does it come from the things we own. Our self worth comes from the reality that God’s only begotten son came to save us. Christ did not die for the angels, the principalities and powers that rebelled against God’s authority, he died for you. You are precious in God’s eyes.

Isaiah also tells us that: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Only God in the person of Jesus Christ, can truly say to us, I know how you feel. Jesus experienced the abandonment of God because of our sins. In the cross he cried out: My God why have you forsaken me. I do not know how God feels about anything unless God reveals it to me; I am not God. But God became flesh; God became human to truly know what we feel and how we live.

God did not try to understand how we live and how we feel, God lived our lives. God entered into our history and our existence. God was under the authority of Joseph and Mary like any child is under the authority of their parents. The creator of the universe subjected himself to human power and authority. Knowing full well the stories of Israel, he sat in front of those who were teaching him about the exodus, the Law of Moses, the Promised Land and their covenant with God. The all knowing God was humble enough to sit as a disciple. He fought the divine impulse to correct those around him, he was able to see sin and injustice and allow them to exist before the Holy one of Israel.

            The poem that Paul uses in his letter to the Philippians says it all: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

Finally, Isaiah states: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” This is the mystery of faith that we remember during our sacrament of communion: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

The good news is that Jesus took on himself all the sin, the suffering, the illness of all humanity. He receive in his life the sins of not only those who were alive during his time but of all those that were to come after him. The good news is that you do not have to suffer. So them how can we deal with the suffering of all those around us? What can we say to those who are carrying their illness, their sins, and live in daily suffering? We need to tell them that God totally understand because he carried that particular suffering, not one like it, but fully it. Our suffering is not redemptive; it is just offensive to the God who paid the price so that our suffering may become joy. So that we can say with the psalmist: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. (Psalm 30:11-12)

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