Today’s passage is one of four poems found in the second
part of the book of Isaiah (chapters 40–55) that deal with
the mysterious figure of the suffering servant. In these poems a
faithful and righteous servant addresses Israel. The context is the
latter days of Israel’s Babylonian exile under a new Persian king
named Cyrus who has come to power and established a new
empire. God’s chosen people live in trying times: their beloved
temple in the holy city of Jerusalem desecrated and destroyed,
deported as slaves into exile in a foreign land. They now have no
king, no Temple, no holy city, and little hope—over a time span
of almost seventy years!
Into this context of misery and lamentation come the
life-giving words of the suffering servant of the Lord. The very
fact that this righteous servant himself suffers helps Israel see
God in a new light. God is not distant or disinterested. God is
near and has identified with them in the form of this messenger,
knowing their suffering and oppression. That makes the words,
spoken by the servant all the more comforting. He is qualified
to speak of “sustain[ing] the weary with a word” and to be listened
The sovereign Lord still surprises us through current revelation
in new and unexpected ways. Maybe that’s why the first
Christians perceived Jesus and his passion (suffering) when
they heard these servant poems of Isaiah. One thing is certain
though. God’s unfailing love often comes to us in unexpected
forms. Think about that. And, who knows? Maybe you will
be the person who surprises someone today with a word that
sustains the weary.
God, thank you for the many persons who support me; I know I am not alone. May I sustain the weary with a word. Amen.
These texts raise questions about who truly welcomes Jesus and under what circumstances. Isaiah 50 recalls the hostility that inevitably follows servanthood. A moment of acceptance, even welcome, will not hide from the servant the fact of the rejection to come. Psalm 118 claims that the city and the victory and the “one who comes” all belong to God. Any victory declared by human beings is bound to vanish as quickly as the day itself. The Philippians hymn asserts Jesus’ own determination to be obedient even to death and God’s conse- quent exaltation of Jesus above all creation. Even in the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ entry is one of meekness and humility rather than of power and pride.
• Read Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. How do you rejoice in “the day that the LORD has made”?
• Read Isaiah 50:4-9a. The writer notes that for Isaiah, suffer- ing does not signal divine indifference but plays a part in the world’s bigger story. When have you interpreted your suffering as part of a bigger story?
• Read Philippians 2:5-11. What earthly traits of Jesus’ are evident in your daily living? Do you see yourself living a countercultural lifestyle?
• Read Matthew 21:1-11. Where are you in the Palm Sunday story? How do you respond to Jesus as he enters?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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