Isaiah 50:4-9a                                                           


C.R. North has provocatively entitled this passage as “The Gethsemane of the Servant.” What connections can you make between this third servant song and Jesus’ preparation on the Mount of Olives for the suffering and death he knew was imminent?


It is difficult to judge whether these verses represent an honest advance over any previous reflection on affliction, or whether they are a singular response to a singular circumstance, no less profound for being so, but also difficult to compare. This is not ‘the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD’ (Job 1:21); but neither is it, ‘cursed be the day on which I was born’ (Jer 20:13) or even ‘heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed’ (Jer 17:14). The servant appears to understand his capacity to withstand assault as the embodiment of obedience, ‘I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.’ (Isa 50:5).


Gethsemane is not a place. It is every place where the weary hunger for a word that will sustain them when they are the target for abuse and shame. Perhaps you could name several persons / scenarios of weariness and hunger; what word would sustain them?

For Isaiah the exile was Israel’s Gethsemane-a place and time of great loss. A lost temple, the sign par excellence that God was among them; a lost homeland which ensured the continuation of life and tradition as they experienced it; loss of identity from being God’s favored and blessed people to being a people scattered by an angry God.

NIB on connections . . .

“. . . as tragedies go, the crucifixion of Jesus was neither the worst nor was it even remotely a singular event in its time; many were such executions in his day. What set it apart was that God had opened Jesus’ ears as to its larger significance, allowing him the measure of confidence that did not remove the anguish but made it bearable. It was the knowledge of . . . his obedience and his love for those imperiled by evil . . . that kept him moving down that particular road and up a cross. But behind was the voice of the one who sent him . . . That voice kept Good Friday “good” and not another tragedy. It enabled that particular servant to empower and inspire other servants, who would follow his lead and take up the cross God set aside for them as well.”


Begin a homily with a general discussion of suffering; why most people hate suffering, how companies drive consumerism with products designed to alleviate even a modicum of suffering.

Bring up several examples-general or specific-of persons who have suffered

Raise the question about Jesus-another example, though famous-of suffering; what makes his suffering any different?

Denouement: Shift to text-Isaiah suggests that this suffering is with a difference; refer to the commentary above (“connections”) how Jesus’ ears were opened to hear not just suffering, but to hear through suffering and thus, to enter into his passion with obedience and courage.

You might close with another example-Martin Luther King, Jr. or Oscar Romero.


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