Monday, October 12, 2015

Didn't See It Coming

It's not a new question by any means, but, as I read again Isaiah 53, this time in anticipation of this Sunday's Track 2 OT lesson, I wonder whom the prophet had in mind when he wrote about that Suffering Servant. Scholars have debated the question for years, and, although I'm not interested in rehearsing the options here, I do find myself reading those heart-breaking words wanting to know what specific pain and rejection the prophet had known and seen to write such a personal, agonizing account. Christians quickly identify Jesus as one who is foreseen by those words. And, yes, of course, I see that connection, too. But the prophet knew first-hand the kind of redemptive betrayal that is behind those vivid verses. He had seen it or felt it. To write those words, he must have known it--and not only as a foreshadowing of something that wouldn't take place for centuries but as something he lived through.

Who is the suffering one? Who is the one who "was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth?" Is that the story of God's people in exile? Is that a leader among God's people? Is it a prophet or priest or political leader? I don't know. No one knows. I like some guesses better than others, but, more importantly, I just want to live in that place of transformative pain. I want to recognize the one whom I have not seen.

Almost as a liturgical piece like a psalm, I hear these verses as a back-and-forth between a leader and a congregation. Someone declares, "Surely he has born our infirmities and carried our diseases," but the crowd responds, "yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted." If not a call and response, it is the poet's revelation that the one who must have done this for us was the one whom we thought was being punished. It is the total reversal of fortunes that breaks my heart. It is the fact that I should have known better but couldn't see it. The one majestic display of redemptive love is right in front of my face, and I missed it!

As Steve Pankey preached about in his sermon yesterday, the world assumes that the rich and successful are those whom God has blessed. Similarly, those who are poor and miserable are those whom God has punished. It's society's way of ignoring the increasing gap between rich and poor--haves and have-nots--and making themselves feel better about trampling on the rights, property, and lives of the underclass. That might be how the world works--how we see things--but it's not how God works, and it's not how God calls us to live.

The one who was oppressed was oppressed for our sake. As the prophet declares, the pain of the suffering one is a part of God's redemptive plan. The pain is not empty. We may have caused it, but God uses it to transform the situation. The question remains whether we will see it.

I'll get to the gospel lesson later this week. For now, though, I want to linger in the searing pain of the suffering one. I want another chance to see it for what it is. I want to regard him not as one "struck down by God and afflicted" but as the one "by [whose] bruises we are healed."

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