The passion narrative is so powerful that it is easy to overlook our first reading for today, the passage from Isaiah. It is one of what is referred to the suffering servant passages. It is important for us to hear because, for us as Christians, it speaks of Jesus. Listen to how it begins, God says:
See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. Just as there were many who were astonished at him –so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals–so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Jesus, the servant of our God, shall be exalted. Yet, the nations and kings shall be startled because of the cruelty that was inflicted upon him. He was beaten and he was indeed lifted up – lifted up onto a cross.
Isaiah says, “He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.” This is the story of Christ. He was despised and rejected and held of no account. Isaiah continues: “By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”
One verse in Isaiah seems to sum up the rest of this passage. God says, “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” Jesus bears our sins and makes intercession for his transgressors – for us.
Remember, Jesus is a student of the scriptures, so it is likely that these passages from Isaiah helped shape his ministry. Even kings took notice of the suffering servant in Isaiah who is described as innocent, yet beaten beyond recognition. Jesus knows self-sacrifice demonstrates love more powerfully than mere words. He goes willingly to the cross knowing that he will change how we view God and God’s will for us.
We talk of Jesus dying for our sins, but I think we should talk more about Jesus dying because of our sinful nature. He died because we tend to think we know what is best for everyone when what we really want is what we think is best for ourselves. God’s will for us is to work for greater good, yet, we tend to work for ourselves first. Then, with whatever energy remains, we help others.
The people of Israel expect their Messiah to fight for their freedom from Roman oppression. Jesus dies because he doesn’t live up to the people expectations; Jesus, instead speaks of truth and life and love. Thus, the people reject him. We, too, reject Jesus when we put our individual wants about all others.
Before he was betrayed, arrested, beaten, and hung upon the cross, Jesus tells his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their “cross and follow me.” And, at the Last Supper, he tells us to love one another as he loves us. Loving one another does not seem too difficult – well loving certain people doesn’t seem difficult, but when in the context of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to John, it seems impossible. Sacrificial love requires surrender; Jesus completely surrenders his personal will to God. In the Eucharistic, we offer ourselves unto God which suggests surrendering what we want for ourselves in order to give of ourselves for what will benefit all of us.
Thankfully, we know that when Jesus surrenders himself completely to God, the story does not end with his death. After telling us we must take up our cross and follow him, Jesus says, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” In Christ, life is changed, not ended. Love becomes the principle that leads us to follow Jesus and on the path of love.
Let us pray.
Lord Christ, help us, to follow you and offer ourselves completely to doing your will. Make us instruments of your love and a sign to others of the hope of true life and peace that you offer. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.