Today’s reading from Isaiah seems perfectly fitting for the day. It’s not just that we’re preparing for the Holy Triduum, recalling what we mark tomorrow night in the garden after the Solemnity of the Lord’s Supper or the effect of the betrayal anticipated in today’s Gospel when Judas finalizes the plans and Jesus acknowledges what is to come. It’s that there is a very nuanced and complicated sense to a prophetic passage that I believe speaks to our time and place, particularly as questions about the equal civil rights of all people under the law are being considered in the highest courts of the land.
The prophet Isaiah begins: “The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” The question I find myself asking today is: How might I speak to the weary? How can I offer a word that will ‘rouse them?’
This is a question for all Christians, for those who profess faith in a God whose love is so great and gratuitous that the Word Incarnate would refuse no one and who preached, demonstrated, and died for a love that is beyond all telling. This is a question for all Christians, for those who recognize that it is truly and only in Christ that we receive a “peace the world cannot give,” a peace that has been given to us, as we proclaim in the celebration of the Eucharist each time we gather in communion. This is a question for all Christians, especially for those moved by concern for those who are unjustly marginalized, treated as inherently sinful, and against whom discrimination is leveled in a way that we largely recognize as unacceptable in any other context.
As we move through the days of Holy Week, aware of the via crucis that lies ahead, we must ask ourselves about the way of the cross that is the regular commute for so many women and men in our world and local communities. There are the poor and the abused, the voiceless and the ignored, and there are those in our society — perhaps not poor nor necessarily voiceless — who are nevertheless treated unequally. Regardless of how one views her personal religious beliefs, surely we can come to agree that the love and peace of Christ is not a limited resource to be distributed as those in a majority, those in places of power and influence, and those who otherwise exercise hegemonic control see fit.
When it comes to love and understanding, what would Jesus do?
Yet, the prophet Isaiah does not stop with simply posing the question to us about what word of hope can be offered that might rouse the weary. The servant of God moves forward, striving to recognize the direction and call of the Lord, and accepts the fact that the path won’t be smooth and the journey will be fraught with difficulty.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
And I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
My face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.
Can we drink from the cup that Jesus does, that Isaiah’s suffering servant does?
When the struggle for justice, for equal rights under the law, for the amelioration of the human condition in a world of poverty, for the cessation of violence becomes overwhelming and seemingly impossible, who give us the strength to carry on? Isaiah explains:
The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.
Who disputes my right?
Let him confront me.
In these complicated days when some work for justice and others work for themselves, the challenge of the prophet rings in the ears of Christians, or should anyway. Can we face those who would put us to shame for preaching the love of Christ? Can we appear together with those who dispute our rights as children of God defending the rights of all? Can we set our faces like flint in the encounter of confrontation?
The closing lines of today’s First Reading offer me the tentative answer to the question about how any of this is or will be possible, how one can find the strength to carry on and speak a word to the weary.
See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?