The suffering servant

April 10, 2022

Isaiah and Paul get at the paradoxical nature of God’s   power in the first two readings we hear today. Isaiah has been blessed to deliver God’s word to rouse the weary, but all it appears to rouse them to do is to mistreat him. Yet Isaiah trusts he will not be put to shame. He is not the stereotypical scapegoat, hanging his head in shame. The “suffering servant” witnesses to the power of God’s word in the way he stands up to his abusers. Paul testifies that Jesus, though God, became a servant, humbling himself for the sake of humankind. In submitting to God’s will to his death, willing and resolute, he has now become the object of worship for all.  Scripture scholars tell us that two verses of today’s Gospel were probably not part of the original text. The graphic description of Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane may have be added later. Luke may not have been the one to write that “an angel from heaven appeared to him” when “he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Luke 22:43-44), but the words he did use are extreme as well. First, Jesus knelt when he prayed. Remarkably, this is the only time in the Gospels Jesus kneels to pray. Kneeling was not the normal posture in this era when praying. People knelt in supplication to a superior, as believers occasionally did when asking Jesus for help, not to pray to God. But here Jesus kneels to plead with his Father in an effort to avoid the cross. Agonizing over the suffering he faced, and agonizing over his acceptance of that suffering, his sweat could well have become like drops of blood. Jesus had taught his disciples that when they pray to the Father they should pray that “your will be done’ (Mathew 6:10). Now that promise is put to the test, as Jesus faces his death on the cross. As he prays to his Father, twice in one sentence he references his Father’s will, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He would rather not have to die at this time in this way, but he asks his Father to be spared only if his Father is willing. He reaffirms that it is not his own will but his Father’s that he will follow. It is not easy to surrender one’s own will to someone else’s at any time, let alone when facing death, but it is the sacrifice within the sacrifice that Jesus makes on this night. It is the kind of sacrifice that we too can be called to make when we are called to act for the benefit of someone else. Amen. (Casey, Most Reverend  Robert G. Pastoral Patterns. World Library Publication, 2022)

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