Lent and Spir.Disc.–Day 35

For those who would like to read devotionally the propers each day this week: The lessons for Monday in Holy Week are: Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 36:5-11, Hebrews 9:11-15, John 12:1-11.

Isaiah 42:19 The passage from Isaiah for today is the first of the Servant Songs in Isaiah. The identity of the Servant is widely debated; and in Isaiah, the prophet sometimes identifies the Servant as Israel herself. Christian interpreters sometimes identify the servant with Jesus. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between; the very earliest Christian communities were still embedded in the Jewish community, would have known these songs, and came to interpret them as pointing to Jesus. Jesus, himself, who used and taught the Hebrew scriptures, according to the Gospel writers, may have appropriated these songs, and identified himself with the Servant. However, what we can know is this from the text itself:

The Servant is beloved of God, God has given the servant God’s own spirit and he has a mission to bring justice on earth (vs.1-2). He is faithful to his mission, persistant, and does not grow weary or faint. (vs. 3-4).

Gentle, he does not crush the meek, or break those who are in pain or bruised. (vs.3)

The Servant is steadfast, uncomplaining, humble. (vs.2).

God speaks directly to the servant in verses in 5-9.

God first describes his own being: creator of the universe, spirit of life in all people, giving “breath” and “spirit” to all who walk upon the earth. Breath and spirit same word in Hebrew and in Greek. Ruah, pneuma. Breath, life, spirit are nuanced meanings. (vs. 5). So if the Maker of the Universe has created everything that is, created you and given you breath and life, when he speaks, maybe it’s a good idea to listen.

God does the creating, God does the calling (vs. 6); God keeps the servant in righteousness not the other way around (grace); God gives the servant as a covenant to the people–the servant is a gift and a promise from God. That could refer to the people of Israel whom God called from the beginning as light to the rest of the world, keepers of the teaching about the God and community: the Torah.

And, along with creating, calling, giving, God defines the mission of the Servant:
to be light
to open the eyes of the blind
the bring out prisoners from the dungeon
to bring those who are in darkness into light. (vs 7).
Jesus will identify himself with this mission in Luke, when he reads from the scroll in the temple.

And then finally, God recalls the hearer to God’s sovereignty over all–also recalling the first commandment. God is God, there is no other. (vs.8).

God announces a new thing through the prophet (vs. 9).

We can see why Christian readers might see Jesus as the Servant, or as another Servant figure. Part of the richness of reading the passage are the complicated meanings as multiple possibilities unfold. We can certainly see why these texts lent themselves to the Gospel writers as a background or or underlay of Jesus and his ministry.

In the Hebrews passage, the author takes up the word “covenant” in verse 15, echoing the language of Isaiah, and redefining the word in terms of Jesus. The covenant becomes a “new covenant” and Jesus is the mediator. This is an important Christological point for early Christians. The writer of Hebrews sees the precedence of the new covenant over the old. Another way to read this is that Jesus offers access to God through his mediation, and does not nullify the “old’ covenant. Rather he becomes a doorway to God for the non-Jewish believer.

The text, here, in Heb. 9: 11-14, establishes the value of Jesus’ sacrifice over all others. The blood of the Lamb of God has more purity, more value, more power than any other sacrifice. Hebrews, on the whole, works to establish the surpassing value of Christ’s atonement. Try to think of atonement as at-one-ment. Or as access, as all inclusive welcome, as opening the door to everyone.

The Gospel reading is the same as the reading for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, reflections can be found below in other entries: Days 6, 27, 29.

Psalm 36:5-11 echoes the themes in the other readings, a celebration of God’s steadfast, strong, sheltering, saving, sovereign presence in the midst of us. The lines speak for themselves. See below:

5Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgements are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

7How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

10O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!
11Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me,
or the hand of the wicked drive me away.

May that steadfast, strong, sheltering, saving, sovereign God be with you today.

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