Speak Lord: Broken Lord, speak of love

Gethsemane 2The first reading at Mass today comes from one of the ‘servant songs’ of Isaiah, widely read as prophetic anticipations of the sufferings of Christ, particularly in his Passion.

The Lord has been pleased to crush his servant with suffering.

If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.
His soul’s anguish over,
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Isaiah 53:10-11

We need to be careful though. The reading responds to an experience of suffering, even a suffering that proves beneficial for others: so a direct correlation with the suffering of Christ can legitimately be made. Likewise the servant’s offering of his life in atonement: in himself achieving what others have failed to do, and doing so to honour the Lord his Father, our Father – there is direct comparison there, and it is fruitful for our understanding of Jesus and how he lived and died.

But it is a step too far to transpose the first line of this prophecy to the situation of Jesus. For itt has not pleased God to crush his Servant-Son. It has pleased God, indeed was his will, that Jesus be true to love, true to the covenant, true to his Sonship and Service. And Jesus agonised over this in Gethsemane, and triumphed over his fears.

But the crushing was achieved by man, not God: God overcomes the crushing when the Father raises the Son to the glory of the Resurrection, and then extends the offer of that gift to all humankind, even those debased by their sin against the innocent Son.

God in Jesus allows himself to be crushed by suffering, in solidarity, in communion, with us. That part of the prophecy is fulfilled. But fulfilled at a slant, and with divine irony.

  • What do you suffer for love?
  • Why?
  • What would be the alternative? Would it be better?

Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.