Make me a servant – Monday of the Holy Week – Isaiah 42:1-7/ John 12:1-11
Today we have the first of the four Songs of the Servant of Yahweh taken from the prophet Isaiah. Together, they describe the finest qualities of Israel and her great leaders. Today’s song, describes a ‘chosen one’ like Moses, David, and all Israel. As the Servant, he fulfils the role of Davidic king and prophet. Christians have typically seen ‘the servant’ as associated with Jesus; his life and ministry, but especially his death and resurrection.
In order to understand this text, we need to look at what has happened so far. God delivered his people from bondage in Egypt, made a covenant with them, and brought them to the promised land. They became a nation and built a temple for the Lord. For centuries they saw military victories and defeats under kings and generals. They strayed from God’s covenant but prophets called them back. Then, in the sixth century BCE, the unthinkable happened. The Babylonians defeated Israel.
The kingdom of Judah finds itself in exile with the temple in ruins and kingship at an end. Zion in all its splendour has been diminished, and some of the Judahites are forced exiles in the foreign land of Babylonia. The Babylonians destroyed the temple, plundered Israel’s treasure and livelihoods, took them into bondage, and marched them back to the gates of Babylon in chains, prompting “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1). The Babylonian victory over Israel was absolute. This was utter, complete devastation of the political, social, economic and religious life God’s people had known for centuries. Without a temple and a Davidic leader, the future of the people was in great peril. They need assurance, assistance, and a new vision.
How could the Mighty Deliverer allow this to happen? Had God abandoned them? Why had he removed access to the temple and to the land he had given them? Were they still God’s people? Was God still God? Now that they were in exile they could only conclude that God had withdrawn favour and allowed the Babylonians to punish them for their sins and disobedience.
Into this difficult political and religious situation, the prophet introduces a servant figure. God speaks to the pain of the exiles and promises to send a servant who will bring justice, and not to Israel only but to all nations. God will place His spirit upon this servant so that the servant is able to bring forth justice to the nations, to be a light, to open blind eyes and bring out prisoners. The prophet reminds the people who God is and how God works. He draws their attention from this particular, historical moment, to the larger purposes of God.
For us Christians, Jesus is the Messiah who has inaugurated the New Covenant by his suffering and death. We will see that more clearly when we read more of the Suffering Servant during Holy Week.
As we begin Holy Week, we are reminded that this work of God’s servant, which we also are, has to go on through us. We are not here this week just to be spectators, even grateful spectators. We are to be part of the work which the Paschal Mystery inaugurated. We, too, are to be servants, ready, if necessary, to suffer as Jesus did for the sake of our brothers and sisters.