The identity of the figure in the Servant Songs of Isaiah remains elusive to modern scholarship. The best is guess is that the Servant stands collectively for that faithful remnant that remains faithful to Adonai even while experiencing suffering - suffering that results from that very fidelity. When prophets proclaim the Word of God, they do so in their preaching and in their actions. In some case, prophets behave in an unusual, even bizarre, manner in order to communicate God's will. Commentaries therefore speak of prophetic deeds as well as words. In a number of cases, we must consider the suffering endured by the faithful prophet to be itself a form of prophecy. the prophet witnesses to the trustworthiness of Adonai by an enduring trust in the Lord's promises. The Servant likewise demonstrates a similar steely faith in God in the face of abuse and persecution. That resolve is on display in this passage from Isaiah 50. For Christian believers the Servant, whatever his identity, is a prophetic type for Christ. In the Lord Jesus, we see absolute fidelity and trust in the Father even as He suffers humiliation, torture, and death. He is the Servant and the ultimate martyr - a witness to God's fidelity.
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20,23-24
Psalm 22 had a powerful effect on the early Christian struggle to make sense of the Passion of Jesus - not least because the witness of Mark depicts Jesus Himself quoting this Psalm. Like the Servant Song from the first reading this individual Psalm of lament depicts intense physical and psychic suffering. Here the presumption is of the innocence and fidelity of the sufferer, but the emphasis is upon the cry for help. This prayer calls out for deliverance to a faithful God. Popular Jewish piety thought that such extreme suffering indicated that the suffering person had offended God. The lament here acknowledges this - "why have you abandoned me?" - while still trusting in the Lord's promised deliverance. Thus the suffering becomes a witness to Divine Providence. There are few passages in Scripture that remind us with such stark power of the depth of Jesus' suffering - a suffering that is endured in fidelity to the Father and for the sake of the world.
This passage in Philippians is rightly called a "hymn" to Christ. It is cast in poetic form and may have had an existence outside of its use here in the letter. In the larger context of Philippians, Paul is concerned to remind the Christian community there of the importance of humility in the Christian life. The hymn provides the ultimate model of that humility in reminding them of the self offering of Jesus Christ. In this, the hymn touches on the very foundations of Christian life - the fulfillment of God's plan of salvation. If we look to Romans, we learn that Paul understood Christ's self offering in love and trust to the Father as the justifying offering that liberates human beings from sin and death. Paul understood that people would never be able to match God's faithful love by mere human effort. Such was only possible by God's mysterious grace whereby His Son takes flesh and in offering Himself accomplishes for us that which we could not accomplish or merit. We also see that this offering is an act of love and that the all powerful God is the one Who acts utterly unselfishly. In fact, the power of God is not a matter of domination or control but the power of love itself. The only possible response to this self emptying love must be to love in return. This poetic portrait of the identity of the Christ becomes the portrait of humanity brought to wholeness and fulfillment. As such, this identity of Jesus offers all human beings a model of their own fulfillment.
The Passion according to Luke (22:14-23:56)
For this Palm Sunday, the Passion is read from the Gospel of Luke. It is too lengthy to provide a commentary on the whole reading, but there are some general themes to consider. Most scholars argue that Luke has modeled his passion account on that of Mark, although he appears to add other traditions and to give the account a different emphasis. Luke emphasizes the innocence/righteousness of Jesus in the course of the Passion. We see and hear very clearly that the only Just One offers Himself to the Father for the reconciliation of the world. And this righteous Jesus continues to give witness and minister to others even as he suffers. In this gospel, we see His exchange with the two criminals crucified at His side - and His promise of salvation to the repentant criminal. In this gospel, we hear a profoundly compassionate Jesus pray for His persecutors and quietly commend His spirit to the Father. This gospel narrative is kinder to the Apostles - while Peter denies the Lord, we will see him repent when Jesus "looks" at him - emphasizing the importance of Peter's close relationship with Jesus. And this is the gospel with the lengthiest post resurrection accounts - first in the gospel itself and then in the story of the early Church in Acts.