Jesus and the Suffering Servant

Power of Weakness
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In her description of Jesus’ wilderness experience – namely, Jesus’ rejecting those concepts of Messiah that were extant in his day – Elizabeth Howes (Jesus’ Answer to God) may have missed a part of the picture — the influence of the suffering servant passages of second Isaiah. She does acknowledge that these passages were different from the Messiah expectations present duringJesus’ lifetime. She simply assigns them as a corporate metaphor for Israel. She does acknowledge that where the ‘Son of man’ is mentioned in the ‘suffering servant’ passages that these connections were probably “at work in the awareness of Jesus” (page 36).

As I read Spong’s description of the ‘suffering servant’ …

The realization dawned on these exiles that they were destined to live in weakness, not power; to bear pain, not glory; to be victims, not victors. Embracing this reality emotionally and rationally, the unknown prophet we call II Isaiah perceived a new image of how the Jewish people could live out their messianic purpose, how they could still be a blessing to the nations of the world. They were to turn their defeat and their weakness into an expression of their purpose. They were to allow themselves to be victimized by the world’s hostility and in the process to transform that hostility into life and wholeness. They were to drain the world of its anger simply by absorbing it and then returning it as love. They were to accept their status as the despised, the rejected; a people of sorrows and acquainted with grief. They were to be wounded for the transgressions of the world, bruised for the iniquities of the world, and through their suffering, their stripes, the world would be made whole. The servant was to be the symbol, the dramatic presentation of this newly understood messianic vocation for the Jewish people. In their suffering they were to remain silent, not to open their mouths in protest. In this way the servant, another lamb of God, became an offering for sin,” and thus it was said of the Jews who would be faithful to this vocation that many may be accounted righteous” (Isa. 53: 11).
[Spong, John Shelby (2013-06-11). The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic (pp. 183-184). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.]

I begin to wonder if what Yesuha did was to take the content of ‘suffering servant’ passages, translate them from a corporate image (Israel) to a process available not only to him but also to all humankind, and then use the term ‘Son of man’ to describe that content and the choice necessary to actualize it.

Perhaps the reason that Howes does not do more with the ‘suffering servant’ passages is that she understands it as a strong force:

In these poems the servant, though wounded for the transgression of others, and stricken and suffering, becomes a radiant, majestic, all-powerful one who will usher in the new era. This especially appears in Isaiah 53. Christianity has assumed that Jesus has fulfilled this suffering servant function, and has given him this title among others. Our question is how much the moving and transformative features inherent in the Isaiah suffering servant moved and toughed Jesus — in the Son of man as suffering, and in “I am in the midst of you as one who served.” (page 9)

What I find interesting is that Howes’ reading has Jesus take concepts and turn them inside out — not discarding them, but letting them breathe with radically new life. I think the church has been right in seeing the analogy between the suffering servant and Jesus, but has been wrong in identifying that correlation with the concept of the Messiah. That Jesus embodied the suffering servant was not the fulfillment of predictive prophecy; instead, it was the foundation upon which Jesus presented a new understanding of the messianic process available to all humankind. If you want to know what salvation and redemption are all about… If you want a description of what it means to “sell all” for the Kingdom… If you are looking for Messiah… Then, look within yourself and compare what you see and how you act with this description of a true servant of God. It is not just a fanciful dream or a continuing hope, it is a possibility for all.

To capture this, I have taken the paragraph from Spong and re-written it to elaborate and explicate the sentence from Howes: “He sacrificed being the natural man to become a supranatural man— or to live the Son of man stretched between divine and human.” (page 213):

The realization dawned on Yeshua that he (and all those who commit to God) were destined to live in weakness, not power; to bear pain, not glory; to be victims, not victors. Embracing this reality emotionally and rationally, Yeshua perceived a new image of how to live out the messianic purpose, how to be a blessing to the world. He would embrace defeat and weakness, integrating them into an expression of God’s purpose. He would allow himself to be victimized by the world’s hostility and in the process to transform that hostility into life and wholeness. He would drain the world of its anger simply by absorbing it and then returning it as love. He would accept his status as the despised, the rejected; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He would be wounded for the transgressions of the world, bruised for the iniquities of the world, and through his suffering, his stripes, the world would be made whole. The Son of man was to be the symbol, the dramatic presentation of this newly understood messianic vocation. In his suffering he would choose to remain silent, not to open his mouth in protest. Howes writes (p. 202) that Yeshua knew that what was behind the Messianic longing for a savior to redeem the people had been manifested inside him,” [and now for the radical nature of Yeshua’s understanding] and knew that the same reality could happen to others.” The messianic is not the sole prerogative of Yeshua; it is an option, a choice, open to all of us. In this way the Son of man, the “basis for authority and decision making,” became an offering for sin,” and thus it can be said of any who would be faithful to this messianic vocation that many may be accounted righteous.” (Isa. 53: 11)

Beyond Social Convention

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“Creative Commons Harold W. Becker With love in your heart, you are the magic and the miracle right where you are” by BK is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Matthew 5:43 – 44 43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.] 

Social convention calls upon us to love friends and neighbors while hating enemies and seeking revenge upon them. I have a different take for you — show compassion and love to your enemies. Don’t detach from them, instead connect with them and build a relationship. This latter behavior would show you off as a citizen of the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. You aren’t going to rid the world of evil and enemies, however you will make the world a better place to live when you change one enemy onto a friend (or at least a non-combative acquaintance. If you only show compassion to those easy to love that is all you will receive in return — easy love and compassion. You are called to be all-inclusive as God is all-inclusive.

If you engage in acts of piety in order to make your ego feel better, then a short-term feel good is all you will have. So, don’t trumpet your good deeds in order that you might feel a little better. Extend yourself to others so that they might be included in God’s all-inclusiveness. That way, both of you will be citizens of the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice.”


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Mark 14:32-33 32 Jesus and his disciples came to a place called Gethsemane. Jesus said to them,“Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John along with him. He began to feel despair and was anxious.
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Yeshua took a few of the disciples with him to Gethsemane and asked them to wait while he went off to pray. They were concerned about Yeshua because a deep grief had overcome him. In his prayer, Yeshua asked that, if it were possible, he would like to avoid being put to death for his loyalty to a new understanding of how God is at work in the world. He also prayed his awareness that faithfulness to the insistent calling of God was far more important than merely keeping alive. Yeshua was aware of a conflicted nature inside of himself, the disciples, and indeed all of of humankind. That conflict needed an integrated resolution. He interrupted his own prayers three times to check on the disciples who, each time, had fallen asleep. “Enough of this,” he said to them. “You can’t stay awake and I can’t stay away from the fate which is ahead for me. Get up; let’s go.”

Immediately an angry crowd arrived. Judas, who was with them, called Yeshua ‘Rabbi’ and kissed him. The crowd took this as a sign and arrested Yeshua. In the melee, the slave of the high priest was injured. Yeshua addressed them all saying, “So, you needed the darkness of the night to arrest me; why didn’t you do it in the light of day while I was teaching in the temple? Never mind, do what you must! This will be the only way that you will be able to see that my faithfulness to God is more pressing than your threats of punishment and death.” At this, the disciples all fled.

Tearing Down Walls

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Ephesians 2:19 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Remember that you haven’t always been a follower of Yeshua. You had a good up-bringing, but you had to make a choice. Because of your commitment to that choice, you have been incorporated into the body of Christ — that is, messianic values and actions will only take flight when you act with messianic intent. That messianic intent tears down dividing walls and reconciles warring parties, bringing peace where there was no peace. Make no mistake, this is not an easy process. Some will call it the way of the cross (something must die for the new to be born). What this means is that strangers become citizens and aliens become saints, all to the end that the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice becomes the normalcy of civilization. You can trust this as a genuine dwelling place in the name of God. Perhaps.

Expecting Northern Light Visions?

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Psalm 27:8  “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

In times of frustration and despair, I cry out, “O, Lord, be gracious and come to me!” I expect thunder clap answers and Northern Light visions. I want a strong and powerful God to be in control my every step… except that I really don’t. I want to know that I am heard. My problem is that In my calling out I don’t listen. I don’t listen for that unheard inner voice that comes with insistence and bids me to make up my mind and respond. When I hear that calling in the name of God (perhaps) and go where it calls me to go, doing what I know I am called to do, then I experience the goodness of the Lord in Now. Wait for the insistence of the Lord; put your strength (and your weakness) there; take heart. Wait!

John or Peter?

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In 664 the Synod of Whitby was convened by King Owsy of Northumberland to resolve differences between the Celtic churches and the churches of the Roman mission to the British Isles. The presenting issue was a dispute over the date for the celebration of Easter. King Owsy followed the Celtic practice; Queen Eanfleda, the Roman. This created much confusion as some in the royal court would be feasting while others were fasting.

At a much deeper level, however, was the difference in focus between the two traditions. Bishop Colman of Landisfarne, arguing for the Celtic mission, called upon memories of St. John, the beloved disciple who laid his head on the breast of Jesus in the Upper Room – listening for the heartbeat of God. Wilfred of Ripon, arguing for the Roman mission, focused on the authority of St. Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. The Celts were more centered in experiencing God in nature and in the events and relationships of daily living; the Romans, more focused on the church and its teachings.

King Owsy, holding the tie-breaking vote (actually, the only vote), decided in favor of the Roman mission. In the ensuing years, the leaders of the Celtic mission retreated to Iona and Ireland.

J. Philip Newell (Listening for the Heartbeat of God) muses: “The great tragedy of the Synod of Whitby is that neither the Peter tradition nor the John tradition should have been displaced. Each represents a way of seeing firmly rooted in the gospel tradition.” (page 32)

Our Western Christian tradition is a product of the Roman way of seeing. Augustine convinced Western Christianity that the basic nature of humankind is flawed by original sin. We are dependent upon God and God’s Redeemer to rescue (“save”) us from ourselves and our possession by sin. The church is the mediator of the actions of God and God’s mediator.

Vestiges of the original Celtic spirit persisted to this day in Scotland and Ireland and are gaining a new-found traction in the Western church today. Pelagius, Patrick, and Brigid (to name a few of the Celtic saints) saw human beings as bearing, by their nature, the very image and likeness of God. Celtic spirituality emphasizes “the image of God at the heart of all people (as opposed to just the baptized of the chosen),” as well as throughout nature. (Newell, page 5)

I am intrigued by the suggestion of embracing both John and Peter. Some question come to mind:

Where might we be now if Owsy had decided to embrace a fusion of Johannine spirituality (listening for the heartbeat of God) with Petrine spirituality (embracing the importance of the church’s teaching office)?

How might personal piety and community engagement be integrated?  or piety and social action?

How might we approach scripture differently?

Would our relationship with the earth / nature be different?

What would be the role of belief? of faith?

Would story narrative be more (or less) important for faith sharing (evangelization)?

How might our worship be different? What would congregational life be like?

Where would we expect to encounter God? Where would we expect to encounter other Christians?

How might we respond to those who stand outside Christian faith? or to those who stand outside our particular brand of Christian faith?

Perhaps you have reflected upon one (or more) of these questions. Perhaps you would raise other questions. Let’s talk!

On (Not) Attending Mass

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Lords Supper by Vladimir Sakhnenko. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 Internationa

Job 11:13      “If you direct your heart rightly, you will stretch out your hands toward him. (NRSV)
[Scripture quotation from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

Creative Commons Francisco” by tvol is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For me, the most meaningful regular worship experience occurs when we are celebrating the Lord’s Supper by intinction. Because I usually sit toward the front of the sanctuary, I am among the first to be served. I am then able to return to the pew and watch the great parade of God’s people pass by as they proceed to the serving stations. That parade — young and old, men and women, black and white, republicans and democrats, gay and straight, those who believe deeply and those whose faith is in question, … — is a metaphor for the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice, a foretaste of the Kingdom. I have just realized that watching that parade (and sharing in it) is at least as important (maybe more so) than receiving the bread and the cup. Passing plates and trays in the pews just doesn’t offer up such an image. (I know! The passing of the elements to others in the pew is a means of serving each other, but it seems to have become a pro forma act, rather than a symbolic one.)

Recently, on retreat in a Benedictine monastery, I chose not to go to morning prayer, immediately followed by Mass. In such situations I have always felt excluded from the community because of the Catholic Church’s rules and regulations about Eucharist. There have been a few times that I have been able to participate by sharing the elements, but I always felt like a thief sneaking in by a window, slightly ajar. As I thought about it, I realized that there are at least two ways to be a rebel in circumstances such as this — 1) sneak in, do the thing you aren’t supposed to do, and gloat afterwards or 2) refuse to participate as a way of demonstrating the injustice. Is there a third way for me?

Walter Wink writes: “Concrete symbolization, such as temples, rituals, and myth, may help us to find our interiority outside ourselves.” As I reflect upon my attitudes toward the Lord’s Supper and being present at Mass, I realize that I was expecting the exterior meaning of bread and cup to infuse itself into my interiority — rather than letting my interiority find its expression in the exterior. Since I have actually found my interiority meaningfully expressed in the great parade at the time of intinction, why have I continued to throw an interior temper tantrum when I am not among the first (or even last) to be served at Mass? How can I expect the Mass to carry the meaning into me when I present myself as one predisposed to be absent?

Tomorrow arrived another chance. Can I present myself as a part of the gathered community, open to the movement of the Spirit? Will my interiority find itself in the presence of a hospitable community? Will I leave my theological ‘baggage’ behind? Will I allow the baptismal holy waters at the entrance of the church to wash me clean? Will I bow, not to the altar, but to the community gathering before me? Will I join the liturgy as one who is truly present? Will I allow the spirit of Morning Prayer to prepare me to turn toward my Benedictine sisters with hospitality?

If I direct my heart rightly, will divine presence stretch out hands toward me?

I attended morning prayers and Mass. What a change. A beautiful service, a beautiful experience. I felt an openness. I felt a part of the gathered community. When the community went forward to receive the elements, I did not feel excluded; instead, included. I was part of the great parade, that part which remained in the pew.

I watched as the first sister received 4 or 5 pieces of the bread (host) from the priest. A few minutes later I saw her walking through a side balcony, obviously clutching the extra hosts in her hands — on her way to serve sisters who were unable to come to the chapel. As the last of the community was in line, I watched as a sister in an electric wheelchair joined the line. My eyes filled with tears as my heart overflowed with joy. She became my sister; they all had become my sisters.

The community is open and the parade goes on!

God Within Unmasks and Transforms

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“Creative Commons Joseph Campbell All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells, are within you” by BK is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Psalm 139:1-8 1 Lord, you have examined me. You know me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up. Even from far away, you comprehend my plans. You study my traveling and resting. You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways. There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord, that you don’t already know completely. You surround me—front and back. You put your hand on me. That kind of knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t fathom it. Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave,[a] you would be there too!
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

When God is conceived as an external super-being, saying that God knows me is both assumed and scary. Assumed because that super-being is omniscient; scary because that omniscient God is also omnipotent (that is, bears the means for saving me or doing me in). I don’t (can’t) connect with God. God does the connecting; I can only be obedient.

When God is conceived as an inner presence, responsibility shifts from God to me. To connect with God requires my doing the inner, ‘spiritual’ work of being open to the possibilities that lie within my unconscious — the possibility for movement toward wholeness and integration and the possibility of remaining a truncated, abridged, incomplete human being because I am unaware of my shadow side and its compelling influence on my thoughts and actions. When I am moving towards wholeness and integration then I am in touch with God within.

To be intimately connected with God in my inward being means being in touch with a dynamic process that is more than just my own personal integration. That dynamic which I find within links me with all those others who are seeking, searching, pursuing God and, in fact, links me with the creative processes of the world around me — co-creator with God, others, world.

It’s hard to explain (‘impossible,’ ‘futile,’ or even ‘absurd’ might be better words in this context) the nature of this connection. It is the simplicity of a daisy which stretches toward the life-giving rays of the sun, giving its all to continuing growth in its radiant beauty. At the same time it is as complex as at the movement of atoms that can be described as orbiting electrons around a core nucleus, but which when observed at its quantum level is a contradiction of realities. The mystics describe the divine-human process as ineffable (meaning that they describe it as indescribable). The Celtics simply describe God-process as a thin place.

Eric Weiner gives a beautiful description of thin places in a 2012 NY Times OpEd piece on travel:

They are locales where … were able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever. … Thin places … transform us — or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves.

So, God (the God-process) is that which unmasks and transforms us at our deepest levels resulting in our moving more toward howe truly are. The God-process is a description of our engaging the Son of Man Archetype, of our following the Way of Yeshua, the unique Human Being (Son of Man).

Where can I go to flee from the God-process, to hide from the Son of Man. There is nowhere to go because I take me with me as I go and the God-process (God) is within me and goes with me.


When Will We Ever Learn?

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World Day of Prayer Logo. CC BY-SA 3.0

Psalm 20:1-9 1 I pray that the Lord answers you whenever you are in trouble. Let the name of Jacob’s God protect you. Let God send help to you from the sanctuary and support you from Zion. Let God recall your many grain offerings; let him savor your entirely burned offerings. Selah Let God grant what is in your heart and fulfill all your plans. Then we will rejoice that you’ve been helped. We will fly our flags in the name of our God. Let the Lord fulfill all your requests! Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed one; God answers his anointed one from his heavenly sanctuary, answering with mighty acts of salvation achieved by his strong hand. Some people trust in chariots, others in horses; but we praise the Lord’s name. They will collapse and fall, but we will stand up straight and strong. Lord, save the king! Let him answer us when we cry out! (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Asking God for protection
                          our heart’s desire
                          fulfillment of our plans
      seems laudable
      until reminded that the Psalm is about
           war-time victory

What about the other side
     our enemies
          are they asking God
          for the same things?

Let’s leave God
     out of war
     if we are insistent about
          blowing up
     let us be honest about it
     and admit that we take pleasure
          in such atrocities
it’s not about God; it’s about us!
it’s about our need for power
     in truth
          we like playing God

There is, however,
an alternative
     that invites us to seek first
          the peaceable Commonwealth
     negotiation taking precedence over battle
     concessions a higher priority than stubbornness
     peace as a way of life rather than fear, hatred, and war

“Oh when will they ever learn?”
“Oh when will they ever learn?”

The One Possibiity

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John 18:17 & 21:19      18:17 The woman said to Peter, You are not also one of this mans disciples, are you?He said, I am not.”       21:19 [Jesus said to Peter] Follow me.”  (NRSV)
[Scripture quotation from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]

Denial — three times
      end of s’tory?
           just the beginning
           of a new chapter.

      Do you love me?
           Feed my people.
      Do you love me?
           Feed my people.
      Do you love me?
           Feed my people.

Yeshua doesn’t overlook
      Peter’s shortcomings
instead, he offers
      the one possibility
           that allows Peter
           to move forward
                with integrity
                with wholeness

How many times do we
      have this opportunity
           for transformation
“Seventy times seven,”
      says Yeshua

Making amends, in the name of God,
      unhinges our expectations
Transformation, in the name of God,
      is boundless and unfathomable
Forgiveness, in the name of God,
      continues until it finds its mark
Rebirth, in the name of God,
      restores wholeness and integrity
“Seventy times seven,”
      says Yeshua,
      and then

           “Follow me!”