Isaiah 50:4–9a; Psalm 69:8–10, 21–22, 31, 33–34; Matthew 26:14–25
Beginning on Palm Sunday, continuing Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week, and ending on Good Friday, the Liturgy of the Word presents to us a series of four special oracles. The poetic utterances by the unknown prophet whose writings are found in the second half of the book of Isaiah are often referred to as the “Songs of the Suffering Servant.”
The identity of the Servant is unknown. The author may have had a contemporary figure in mind, but the context of the oracles has led contemporary scholars generally to see them as describing the “ideal Israel.” This ideal represents the people who have come through the suffering of their time in exile in Babylon.
They have learned from their sufferings and have let go of trying to control their own destiny. They are ready to do God’s will. This transformation is described in the actions of the Servant, who has received a mission from God and carries it out in the face of opposition, physical suffering, and death.
The Suffering Servant songs are poetic and descriptive, especially the longest passage, used on Good Friday. They are worth reading and meditating on during Holy Week, since Christians have long used these Hebrew Scriptures to refer to Jesus. The redemptive suffering of Christ is meant to teach us, transform us, and recreate us. He is our liberation, our healing, our new covenant. In the rich poetry of Isaiah, we see and hear the story of our salvation.
Read some of the Suffering Servant songs from Isaiah 42, 49, 50, and 52.
Jesus, keep us faithful to you.
When our faith is tested, may we not betray your trust.
May we always be your servants, even in times of suffering.