HOMILY – MARCH 29
Holy Week is a study of God our Father’s love for us as expressed in the flesh and blood of his own Son, the innocent Lamb of the New Covenant, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In his suffering Servant and Son, the Father recognizes the divine love which the Son returns to him in all eternity. In his passion and death, Jesus allows us to see, right up close, the inner dynamism of God’s love. If you’ve ever said or heard someone say, “I love him or her to death,” now you get a chance to see what that means when GOD says it. In the person of his Son, God shows us very literally how he loves us to death — his and ours.
During this Holy Week, we are treated to Old Testament readings from the Prophet Isaiah. Nothing new about that, especially during Lent. But these readings are from a special category. We call them the Songs of the Suffering Servant of God. There are four of them, scattered through Isaiah’s chapters 42 to 53. The “servant” can be understood to be God’s people Israel; OR to be an individual, the Messiah or Anointed One of God. Christ fulfills the prophetic meaning of these songs perfectly. He is called by God to lead the nations, but is horribly abused and rejected. He sacrifices himself, out of love accepting the punishments due to others. He is the Righteous and Just One, and salvation comes to us all through his loving actions.
God’s people in Jesus’ time were suffering under Roman imperial rule and occupation, and their expectations of the Messiah were shaped accordingly. People were waiting for a heroic conqueror who would free them from Roman rule and lead them to reign gloriously as an independent kingdom once again. They had allowed the poignant image of the Suffering Servant to recede from their awareness of God’s Word, let alone identify the Messiah with such themes. In their theology, the human authors of the Gospels of the New Testament revive all those images and themes, and see them fulfilled perfectly, even verse by verse, in the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. To the alert and careful observer, there can be no doubt that he is the long-awaited Messiah. His miracles, his becoming the Passover Lamb of God’s New Covenant with his people, his suffering and death, and of course ultimately his Resurrection, all reveal him as the Expectation of the Nations.
When we hear the second reading, this familiar passage from Philippians, it should revive our faith and confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church. This infant Church, full of mostly unlettered men and women, is blessed to have a scholar of the Law like Paul of Tarsus among its miraculously designated preachers and leaders. But even Paul would have been at pains to author such magnificent verse as Philippians 2:6-11 (“two, six to eleven”). He seems to have introduced these lines into his letter as something with which the Philippians were already well familiar–likely an early Christian hymn which they knew and would recognize, kind of like someone injecting the words, “O say, can you see . . .” into a speech with the full expectation that U.S. citizens, at least, will pick up on it and know the rest. To think that only 30 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, ordinary people were capable of such meditation on and understanding of the mission and person of Jesus Christ! Now THAT is divine inspiration at work!
Review those thoughts and musings once again: He was in the form of God, meaning he was divine. . . He was equal to God, but didn’t “Lord” it over anybody. . . He emptied himself, and took on the lot of the lowest class of humanity, a slave. . . Thoroughly human as well as divine, he was so humble that he died a death reserved for slaves and other lowlifes. . . In doing that, he was perfectly obedient to God, the very image of the Suffering Servant carrying out the divine will. . . And it brought him to the cross.
At the moment of his conception, God had announced that his Son’s name was to be Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins. His name alone is worthy of the greatest respect, a genuflection from all humanity living and deceased. Every tongue should acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. By doing so, we give glory to God for his gift of our Savior.
We might go so far as to call this beautiful hymn, composed by our earliest Christian ancestors under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, the New Testament’s Hymn of the Suffering and Triumphant Servant. But this is a different kind of triumph than winning an election, a promotion, a tournament, a battle, or a war. In his triumph, our Lord and Savior never rubs anyone’s nose in the dirt, never scorns those who are a little slow or fall down on the job, never struts around beating his chest. The only way you can lose with him is to CHOOSE to lose; and even then, our Savior and Good Shepherd will go in search to give you every possible chance, every benefit of the doubt. If you’re looking for proof of his divinity in signs of triumphal conquest, you won’t find it in THIS Savior! He enters Jerusalem on a donkey, a funny and lowly animal then as now. He enters this way as if to speak his familiar theme: “Do not be afraid!!” And how true that is. We have nothing to fear from him. WITH him, we have nothing to fear from ANYONE. Anything we might “lose” in following him, we’ll find that we gain a hundred times over, in ways that we cannot even imagine.
That’s our Savior, the Suffering Servant, serving not only God his Father, but you and me, his brothers and sisters, showing us that there are no lengths to which he will not go to bring us home with him to his Father forever.