The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
Our passage today comes from the Suffering Servant’s songs in Isaiah. During exile, the unfaithful Israel complains to God. God rebukes in verse 2, “Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver?” The Suffering Servant enters to speak this poem. “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” In a world filled with hate, hardened toward the ways of God and sacrifice for others, the Suffering Servant tells the story of God’s deliverance.
In all honesty, this story too doom and gloom for me. I am reminded of Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol or Tevye’s dream sequence in Fiddler on the Roof. Some ghostly figure approaches with a song or a poem. I just laugh it off and move on. However, the Suffering Servant is not a ghost-like mythical figure of Isaiah. The Suffering Servant unifies the voices of the suffering community.
Weeks after washing Wednesday’s ashes and weeks of drudging through life without caffeine or cookies, the Lenten season doesn’t want to end. Isn’t it time yet? Haven’t we mourned enough? A primary reason to read the story of the suffering servant! The suffering servitude community - Israel, represented in the Suffering Servant - feels weak, defeated, and wasted away. However, the community tells of the faithfulness of God. “The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”
In the midst of Lent, life happens. Cancer is diagnosed, chemo treatments begin. And in the midst of the long, dark period awaiting the cross, we suffer. And in our suffering we cling to hope. With our faces set like a flint we engage the danger, the anguish or the boredom.
Much like the image of Jesus, the Suffering Servant faces humiliation and death only to be redeemed by God in the end. The poem exudes from a weary community, holding on to hope that God will exult in the end. And sometimes it is only that glimmer of hope that gets us through.