The Suffering Servant (Is 50:4-9a) has been called to speak a word to the weary and to listen to the will of God. The Servant knows that God is with him and he sets his face like flint. He knows that in the end he will not be put to shame. They will beat him, revile him and spit upon him but he will not turn back. His suffering is the way up and the way out for him and for the people he serves. Though insulted and broken hearted, the Psalmist tells us that the Servant will continue to glorify God.
Jesus has set his face like flint. He will come out of hiding in Ephraim and go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover meal the disciples have gone ahead to prepare (Mt 26:144-25). Originally, this was probably not a Passover meal; however, as faith developed in the early communities, they looked to their tradition for interpretative accounts of what Jesus had done. Jesus had passed over from death to life. This was the New Passover. The meal that was intended to remember the deliverance of God’s people from oppression in Egypt turns into a sad occasion.
One of the Twelve—Judas—has decided that a Suffering Servant version of the messiah is not what he was looking for. He arranges to hand Jesus over. Judas (Judah) betrays Jesus. This too is interpretative. As the early church developed as a sect within Judaism, friction which led to a split developed over time. He—Judas/Judah—is a traitor who will betray Jesus. The rest of the Twelve, in spite of their protestations to the contrary, will deny Jesus. When the chips are down, they will flee into the dark.
The only people at the Last Supper who will not abandon Jesus are the women who have faithfully followed him. The will not deny nor abandon him. Mary of Magdala will be the first apostle of the resurrection. She and the other Marys and women followers figured into the early interpretative tradition.
We too are disciples. We sit at the table with Jesus. We proclaim our love for him and tell him that we will never deny him. But, we return to the “real” world and act like we do not know him.
We sit back and enjoy our creature comforts obtained on the backs of oppressed workers in foreign and domestic sweatshops. We sit back and let elected officials put 52% of our budget into the defense budget while sunken-cheeked hungry children in America cry themselves to sleep every night. We let people die before their time because we do not provide adequate healthcare for Americans. We let poor kids languish in underfunded and poorly staffed schools so we can fund other priorities like space defense (as if we have any business occupying space).We let racism and classism tarnish our relationships with our fellow human beings. We sing patriotic songs and wave flags as we proclaim that God is on our side. We bash people whose sexual orientation is not the same as ours. We put all Muslims into one big box and label them as terrorists. We let our government subsidize Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. We allowed our government to wage a preemptive, immoral war in Iraq and now we tell the Iraqis, “It is time for you to step up and clean up the mess we made in our lust for oil and hegemony.” The war and the embargo that precede it caused the deaths of millions of innocent Iraqis.
In spite of all the bad news, there is hope. Jesus knew that bad things that were going to happen. He set his face like flint because he knew God would empower him to overcome evil. He assured the cowardly disciples that he would go before them into Galilee. There they would regroup. The Jesus movement would be born. Living in the person, power and presence of the Risen Jesus, the disciples now go forth. They will leave the table and restore justice where injustice rules. The hungry will be fed. The homeless will be sheltered. The young will be educated. The sick will be cared for. Prisoners will be visited. Immigrants will be welcomed. A year of Jubilee debt relief will be proclaimed.
As we go to the banquet table this week, let us remember why we are there. Let us go forth into Galilee to meet Jesus. With resurrected hope, let us set our faces like flint and undertake our mission to alleviate human misery. Let us speak a word to the weary.
Let us listen to God’s call with the ears of our hearts. The heart is the center, the point vierge, where we encounter God in the depths of our being. Living in contemplative union with God, then God of justice, we, like the Servant, come forth to serve.