18th October 2015
The middle section of the long Old Testament book of Isaiah is particularly about the peoples’ sorry state in exile in Babylon and the encouragement of them that all will be well eventually. The section begins at chapter 40 with comforting words and ends in Chapter 55 with a confidence for the future. And the section contains four songs about the servant of the Lord. In the first song (Isaiah 42:1-9) the servant will gently bring peace to the people and to all nations in line with God’s intentions. The second is at the beginning of chapter 49, about the nation of Israel itself as in some way the servant accomplishing God’s will. The third song in chapter 50 speaks of the servant as an individual prophet announcing the good news of God in the face of all difficulties. And our reading today is just a small part of the final song (Isaiah 53:10-11); it speaks of the servant as a righteous person overcoming all sinfulness so all might be righteous. Christians apply many of the descriptions of the servant in these songs to Christ Himself, for He, through much suffering, maintains His righteousness and enables it freely for all to attain; we see Jesus as the ultimate case of unselfishness and suffering that benefits others.
In the letter to the Hebrews the author interprets the history of the chosen people with all its ups and downs, and constantly points out the message it has for the Christians he addresses. The second reading (Hebrews 4:14-16) is the next three verses after last week’s reading. It develops this Christian interpretation of the suffering servant, but sees Jesus as the genuine priest, unlike all the others with their own sins, for He has not just symbolically entered the inner sanctum of the Temple, but has actually entered heaven itself. Being one of us, Jesus has won the possibility of ultimate success for everyone – the culmination of God’s creative act of unselfishness and risk-taking.
Mark wrote the good news of Jesus Christ for the early followers of the Way of Jesus. The purpose of this gospel is to give the people some understanding of the transformation potential that Jesus should have on the readers’ lives. Mark does this through the format of a report of the public life and death of Jesus, his sayings and his deeds and the reaction of those around him, especially the disciples; it expresses his understanding of the significance of it all for life in his time (and in ours today). The third reading (Mark 10:32-45) we have from it today is one of undoubted reliability, for no gospel writer would have portrayed the disciples in such a bad light had it not been past down to them from the disciples themselves, who admitted their unworthiness. The story is made public here so as to remind us Christians even to this day, that we can easily get the message of the Kingdom of God quite wrong because of our self-confidence and selfishness. The disciples thought the kingdom was to do with earthly power politics and selfish promotion. They just had not understood the main message Jesus was trying to put across to them; until He had actually died and it began to dawn on them what it was all about then they began to see things differently.