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Day 37—Holy Wednesday, March 27

Isaiah 53:1-5

Who has believed what we have heard?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

For he grew up before him like a young plant 

and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by others; 

a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity,

and as one from whom others hide their faces 

he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities

and carried our diseases,

yet we accounted him stricken,

struck down by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, 

crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the punishment that made us whole, 

and by his bruises we are healed.

The prophet sings. The passage for today’s devotional is commonly seen in the larger context of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 as part of the assigned readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Good Friday. It is part of what biblical scholars have named a “servant song” classified alongside three others in the writings of the Prophet Isaiah (42:1-7; 49:1-6; 50:4-9). The suffering servant in the Christian tradition and interpretation is often linked to Jesus as prophecy is fulfilled through his life, death, and resurrection. When paired together with one of the accounts of the passion story, it is easy to see Jesus in the role of the suffering servant. The one who washes feet, heals the sick, and the one who dies of the cross for the sins of all. Composer George Frederic Handel used this same interpretation when writing the Messiah using quotes such as “Surely he has borne our grief . . . wounded for our transgressions . . .” in the second part of the oratorio highlighting the passion of Jesus.

Jewish traditions have seen these servant songs as corporate incantations to God having reference to the hardship the people of Israel have endured and God’s work to redeem them. This passage is a communal confession on the suffering of the servant role. The servant in prophetic tradition is one of vocation (Moses, Ezekiel, Jeremiah.) If the prophet was setting forth a model of faithful Israelite service, then any Jew who sought to emulate that pattern would resemble this servant. Jesus is a Jew whose life and death model such integrity.

What the servant has done is understood to be the will of God. Suffering on behalf of others. Sufferings that could be avoided – sacrifices on behalf of community. If we seek to emulate the servant’s faithfulness, and the model set before us by Jesus, we will choose to give a suffering shape to our lives for the sake of the life of others. This is the shape of life needed to rid the world of suffering. In the midst of this communal suffering, the strength of God is revealed and the community healed.

-Dillon Swanson



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