Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(and a little backtracking on Ch. 52...)

Vv. 52:13--53:12: The Fate of the Suffering Servant

Vv. 52:13--53:3: Just Who IS the Servant, Anyway?

Well, from this set of verses, we know this much:

1. He will eventually prosper (v. 52:13)
2. He has a demeanor about him that is noticed (v. 52:14)
3. He will catch the attention of kings (v. 52:15)
4. He sort of came up from nowhere (v. 53:2)
5. He was despised, shunned, and is used to suffering (v. 53:3)

That's a bit of a paradox--a charismatic, obviously noticed person, who is persona non grata, but will eventually prosper. In some ways, that makes no sense. People who catch the attention of others usually do it "to the good"--but, as we know from the tabloids, notoriety sells, too.

However, consider Israel in that time. They're everyone's doormat. Yet they were a thorn in Pharaoh's side in Egypt. They do ok in Babylon despite the fact they are outsiders and not well liked. I have it in my head that the Israelites in Babylon were a little like the Mormons in Missouri in the 1840's before we ran them all back to Nauvoo, IL--fiscally prosperous but clique-ish, with a strange religion, so the locals did not like them.

I know from my own experience how hard it is to succeed when you have the deck stacked against you. I think about when I applied for the full-ride college scholarship that put me through my undergraduate years. I kept getting dead ends from the school counselors about my applying--they wouldn't give me an application--told me "I was not the kind of student they wanted for that scholarship." I am thinking "Say what? I'm #4 in a class of 113." Come to find out the person who was #1 in my class, who was also a teacher's kid--well, SHE had applied for the scholarship and they were trying to ice the competition locally. "You're not the kind of student they want for that scholarship" really meant "You're an outsider," I might also add that the local favorite was quiet, demure, studious, and, in many ways, what people expected in a smart 17 year old. At age 17, I was iconoclastic, cynical, and salty. (I know, you're thinking, "And you think that has changed somehow?" ) But even at age 17 I was very very REAL.

Once I figured out the game, I called a former classmate who a year older than me, and already going to that school, and I got him to send me an application from their Admissions office. The story has a happy ending. We both made it to the interview phase, and when it was all said and done, I got the scholarship and "the local favorite" didn't. I found out years later I was not a "committee pick" but I was a "president's pick". In those days, the president of the college got three picks on his own out of the ones the committee rejected. I was one of his three. We have been friends for 30 years now. He told me back in the late 80's, "I just saw this big raw diamond in you."

So I guess in some ways I can identify with Israel's struggle in that sense.

Vv. 53:4-7: The Servant Did Nothing Wrong and Got Punished Anyway

This has to be a new and different concept to people of that era. The common mindset is that illness, death, or infirmity is "Punishment for sin." The concept of a stricken person with no sins to bear--theirs or their relatives'--was unheard of. It's a radical concept to them.

The language of these verses is incredibly descriptive and direct--"He was wounded for OUR transgressions;" "Upon him was the punishment that made US whole, by his bruises WE are healed." Israel paid a price many times in its early history, yet the bulk of it was not of their doing. V. 7 describes a sacrificial lamb--like the ram that was substituted for Isaac--like the scapegoat in Leviticus (I think it's Leviticus!)--like the Paschal lamb we honor at Easter. It is also interesting that this verse describes US as "sheep who go astray."

This is a hard set of verses for someone like me who likes to keep everything "square" and "not owe anyone." I mean, I even keep track of "whose turn it is to buy" on meals together with friends. When we think in terms of the crucified and risen Christ, there's no way we can ever "make it square"--we will always owe him. But it does bring up the possibility that other people also bear our burdens as a community, or we may bear another's burdens, and in these scenarios, again, there's no means of "payback", no way of ever "making it square." Perhaps the way we should handle this is instead of stressing over what we "can't repay," instead we should focus on bearing someone else's burden, paying someone else's debt, with the same "non-expectation" of payback, same as Christ.

I think about a friend of mine, who had a stroke, but who had none of the "traditional risk factors" and was younger than the "usual" age for a stroke. Fate put us in a weird position. She would probably have died of her stroke had I not called on the phone that night--and I had even given up and hung up, deciding she and her husband were in bed. Evidently, the phone call awakened her husband, but I had already hung up, and then when he looked over at her, she was not responding. He then called 911.

Both of them have some degree of "survivor guilt" about this and feel they owe me her life, and of course, I'm going, "Aw, man, that was just fate." Now, one could argue it belongs in the "non-coincidence" file, but it does not change the fact both of them feel they owe me a debt which they can't repay. Obviously I downplay it and softsoap it, and "Aw gee shucks" it, but nothing I do will ever change their feelings about that.

I realize from that experience, I also have no small amount of "survivor guilt" about the Crucifixion and Resurrection, which is definitely "unpayable debt" because it happened 2000 years ago. I have always told my friends in the "stroke scenario", "Don't think you have to owe me. Instead, invest that feeling into caring for others, and it will be square in my mind."

Ah...another time I need to follow my own good advice? Um, YEAH. Could it be that is God's way of wanting to deal with those feelings? Could it be that by sharing my gratitude for people who enrich my life and showing compassion to those who cross through my life that this is the key to "not worrying about this debt"?????

Vv. 53:10-12: Out of Pain Comes Light and Strength

Well, here's another concept that would be considered radical in the days of "the 2nd Isaiah"--that the outcome of pain and death can be light and hope. The Psalms are full of "avoidance of the dark," and "avoidance of 'the Pit',". The idea that within the center of the darkness of Death, there shines Light--well, that's totally foreign to them. Even today, we carry residuals of that mindset in sayings like "Like breeds like," and "what goes around, comes around."

Well, we all know that is just simply not always the case, as evidenced by the old saw, "No good deed goes unpunished." It's easy to think of this reality in the negative. But what about the positive? How do we see light in the center of a black pit? The answer is scary--you have to sit in the dark until the hints of light reveal themselves. That is hard, b/c you may not get your feedback very quickly on that one. In my case, I have to resist my urge to bolt. I have a tendency to think about that like I do about fishing, "If I'm not going to start to get a nibble right off the bat, I ain't stayin'." My fatal flaw is not to want to sit in the dark pit long enough for my eyes to adjust to the light. If I don't start to see the way out fairly soon, I start bellowing and carrying on, masking my fear as impatience, bravado, and anger. At times, I'd rather holler at everyone else and would practically die before hollering "help." But if I would just holler "help" more, I might be able to sit in the dark a little longer. I mean, think about it--say you fell in a dark well. You're far more likely not to panic if someone answers your distress call--even if the answer is, "It's going to be a while before I can get you out, just sit still, chill out and don't over-use your oxygen. Help IS coming, it's just not right at the moment." God's like that sometimes.

Sooooo...that was week 5!



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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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