The grace of Christ's suffering
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 68; Matthew 26:14-25
Of all the texts of the Old Testament, none resonate more clearly with the image of Christ than the passages in Isaiah portraying God’s Suffering Servant. The righteousness and innocence of this figure in the face of censure and insults is claimed as the means of redemption; the way in which the deserved condemnation of the guilty is removed.
'But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed' (Is. 53.5). This is from the fourth ‘song’ (Is. 52.13-53.12) observing the state of this man. However the passage we read today, the third song of God’s servant, presents a different perspective. Here the figure speaks of his own situation. He feels that his sense of honour and love and dignity is maintained by the Lord God, even in disgrace and ignominy. He thus bears his trials ‘like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame’ (Is. 50.7).
But the treatment this man describes is insulting and debasing: it is behaviour that denies the dignity of humanity. He is beaten; his beard is pulled out. He is spat upon. Such treatment is the fruit of hatred. What is it about God’s help that renders this shame, shameless; that renders disgrace, graceful? The Servant accepts his trials because he believes that God is his help, therefore he is not disgraced. It is more than mere assistance given by God, as someone standing on the sidelines: the help received is precisely the gift of God himself.
Christ’s disgrace is graceful and his shame, an exultation because he is God. The Creator who made man in his image takes this flesh to himself to renew its lost dignity. The damage, the despoiling that is suffering, is transformed into a life-giving action because it is the Creator who undergoes it. And this recreating grace is presented to all humanity who share God’s image. 'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself' (Jn. 12.32).