April 10, 2020

A Good Friday reflection on the suffering servant by our Assistant Program Director, Angie Smith.

On your path you’re told to read from Exodus 52 and 53. Your Bible stops at Exodus 40, now before you panic your Bible isn’t wrong, I am. We are actually reading Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Take a few minutes to closely read the text and laugh with me (or at me if you prefer).

I had a lot of “ugh” moments when working on today’s reflection. The first because I gave you all the wrong reading. The second because it’s this section of Isaiah. Dr. O’Brien would never forgive me if I read our Christian theology into the Hebrew Bible.

I know some of you will argue with me about this, Isaiah wasn’t writing about Jesus of Nazareth. Christians went back to Isaiah and read Jesus into the text. I wanted to do my due diligence with this text and to be honest with all of you. I am not a Hebrew Bible Scholar, with the exception of some of the Apocalyptic texts, I will always look toward the experts for guidance. My notes from Introduction to the Old Testament are some where in my office at church and I am working from home. I did the next best thing; I went to Working Preacher and read some commentaries on the text.

Instead of trying to paraphrase, which would likely end in plagiarism, I’m going to share with you some of what Michael J. Chan wrote in his commentary

The image of a vicarious, intercessory sufferer, whose hardship results in healing for the world, is certainly a profound one. Do Christians do violence to the text when they hear echoes of Second Isaiah’s suffering servant in the Christologies of the NT? No, not really. Problems only emerge when Christians assume that a Christological interpretation exhausts the text’s potential.

Such a view blinds us to how other servants might wear the “mantle” of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. On a very basic level, the servant represents the human embodiment of redemptive suffering, something God can work in any age. Understood in this way, the “mantle” of Isaiah 52-53 has been worn by many servants of God, including Moses, Jeremiah, Israel, and perhaps even Second Isaiah himself. Each of these servants suffered for God’s people, and shouldered their sins for the sake of God’s will for the world.

The Christian interpretation of scripture isn’t the be all and end all. We don’t get the last say. Personally, I really like Chan’s comments on the text. It opens up a world of possibility, a world in which God is still at work. A world in which the work of redemption is still happening. Amen.