The Suffering Servant

National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Suffering Servant


APRIL 9, 2017, PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD'S PASSION

Mary M. McGlone

Mt 21:1-11; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14-27:66

The beginning and the end of Jesus' life are the times most prominently portrayed in Christian art. While we may not think about it often, each depiction, all the Nativity scenes, sets of Stations of the Cross, and images of the Last Supper have great power to communicate an implicit theology, one that, like our hymns, subtly forms our spirituality and thus our way of living our faith.

Through the ages, Leonardo da Vinci and his colleagues have shaped our religious imagination, telling us, among other things, exactly who was at the Last Supper. They hardly ever deviate from showing only Jesus and the Apostles--almost never depicting the women who accompanied Jesus to Jerusalem and witnessed his crucifixion and burial. (Remember, women were at the table in the early Christian celebrations of the Lord's Supper and we have no evidence that they were excluded from Jesus' table.)

There is a little more breadth in representations of the Passion. We have graphic paintings and sculptures emphasizing physical suffering, Jesus' great loneliness, apocalyptic cataclysms and even portrayals of a victorious, priestly Christ. Often the disciples who stood at a distance or at the foot of the cross--almost always pictured as in John's Gospel, portraying the beloved disciple as more prominent than the women.

What if we would turn to Isaiah and Paul instead of allowing Mel Gibson and Leonardo to be our primary interpreters for the events of this Holy Week?

We can begin by trying to understand Jesus as the Suffering Servant of God. In today's passage, the third of the servant songs, Isaiah depicts a servant-disciple, a prophet and more. As a disciple, his every day begins with obedient listening; he is in intimate communion with God, sharing God's own heart. Because he is a prophet, the rest of his day is spent in speaking God's word to the weary, or as Isaiah says in another place, giving hope to those who walk in the shadow of death.

More than any other prophet, Isaiah's servant submits to suffering, accepting it without complaint. The difference between Jeremiah, who loudly lamented his suffering, and the one who gave his back to those who beat him demonstrates the distinction between a Jeremiah who, even knowing what it costs, does what the master asks, and the suffering servant whose communion with God is so profound that he understands the rejection he suffers as a rejection of God and believes that God shares that rejection with him. …

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