The Sufferer



Isaiah 43:1-4
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.

When I say, “I hope in Jesus,” I think I mean something different than most of my brothers and sisters.  My sense is that they mean that they’re going to heaven for eternity or that Jesus will deliver them from some form of heartache.  I hope for those things too, but when I think about hope in Jesus other things come to mind first.  I think about someone like Pat.  Pat was a homeless man in Portland who I had to turn away from a bed because he was covered in his own fecal matter.  I offered a shower, a clean set of clothes, and to do his laundry, but he was so embarrassed that he stormed out of the mission and into the cold night.  I also suspect that his mental illness made it impossible to reason with him.  I hope with all my being that this servant, this spirit-empowered King Isaiah predicts means something good for people like Pat.  That perhaps Jesus is out there in the cold streets, whispering comfort to broken souls.  That perhaps while we’re singing him songs in our gathering he is out there relentlessly tugging on the hearts stuck in all manner of brokenness.[1]  That he’s out there, beyond hope, working toward the justice that I am incapable of achieving.  

He will not cry or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;

Words fail.  

Have you ever wondered why Jesus didn’t give the Sanhedrin and Pilate an ear-full at his “trial?”  Surely God-in-flesh could have spoken reason into these powerful blokes. Surely, the Word of God’s words could have swayed the minds of oppressors. I can imagine that Isaiah’s first hearers were probably quite desirous of a messiah who would shout their cause from the rooftops.  And yet, says Isaiah, this coming One will not cry or shout.  This work of justice breaking into human hearts will not be quiet, to be sure, but it also won’t be accomplished through heated negotiation or eloquent oration.  No, as Isaiah 53 will make clear, this servant must suffer in order to accomplish justice.  He must subject himself to the very injustice that started this mess.  He must take on the consequences of human greed and dastardly independence.  No words will do, for the world’s broken need a broken-God to stretch out his hand to them. 

a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
    until he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

I always wonder what time feels like for a person like Pat.  The endless wandering, time only told through the occasional public clock and the shadows cast by the journeying light.  No work.  No family.  No friends.  I tend to mark time in relationships.  I think about my journey with my wife and it orients me to what has passed and what I anticipate coming.  I also mark time through teaching, gardening, office hours, or miles run.  What would it be like to take all that chronological fabric and rend it? What might it be like to have nothing to wait on but the next free meal at a shelter?  Or to only hope for a shower or a bed at night?  Perhaps, he’s still out there waiting, wandering forward and backward without progress, like lapping water at land’s edge. Does he ever wait for redemption to break forth like a blinding dawn?  Does his sense of time allow him to wait for the Sufferer to enter his world? 

I think Jesus is after him.[2]  What that really looks like, I don’t know.  And that’s part of the point.  You know someone, I bet, for whom your best efforts have fallen short.  Fear not, for He is on His way to them.  He is searching, roaming the earth to say, “I have taken your wounds from you! Feel the holes in my wrist and be made whole!”  Don’t stop trying.  Offer them rest.  Offer them water.  Offer them a shower and fresh clothes.  And if they refuse, if they prove to be in a place where they cannot accept your hospitality, fear not.  For He is tireless and will one day call out to them from the shore, that their lapping may cease and justice shall be established.[3]
At least, that’s what I hope for.


[1] Really, I would apply this blog to pretty much anyone we might think of as beyond our own reach.  All the broken relationships, all the lost and wandering souls, all the addicts, so on and so forth.
[2] C.S. Lewis once referred to the Holy Spirit as the Hound of Heaven.  It’s a problematic metaphor since when the hound gets to its prey good things don’t happen for the prey.  But it shines inasmuch as it conveys the wreckless and relentless energy of Christ.
[3] Don’t get me wrong, we can always refuse this justice and redemption.

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