Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Isaiah 42:1-13) transports me to a righteous Revolution Square where the social justice-seeking Spirit of revolt manifests multiple personalities. On the one hand, God’s Spirit is poured out and possesses the Suffering Servant to maintain silence in the streets. The vigil quietly inspires a velvet revolution without a trace of destruction or violence – not even a bruised reed will be disturbed; the faltering flame will not flicker out. As gentle as it is, this rebellion creates significant outcomes: the blind gain vision; the prisons are emptied; dungeon dwellers driven to despair see the light of day and fill their lungs with fresh air. It makes you want to shout, but the Servant silences the crowd, sounding like Otis Day and the Knights giving them instructions: a little bit softer now, take it easy now.
Then, the prophet plays the other hand, contrasting the Gentle Servant with a more macho image of the Spirit. The prophet sings a new song, and the Spirit suddenly possesses the Lord to march out like a mighty man. Like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and triumph over his enemies. Otis Day provides a different set of instructions here: a little bit louder now, lift your hands up and SHOUT, throw your hands back and SHOUT!
From the number of times the gospel writer quotes Isaiah, we get the idea that Jesus spent a lot of time with this prophetic book, and understood his life and ministry to be a fulfillment of Isaiah’s visions. So which Spirit possessed Jesus? A gentle servant who would not disturb a leaf or a mighty man of war threatening to give his enemies a severe thrashing? Aside from turning over the cash boxes at the temple and chasing their incarnation of the Wizards of Wall Street out with a whip, Jesus didn’t pose much as a warrior in His public life. To the chagrin and disappointment of his followers, He chose instead the role of Suffering Servant and went gentle into that good night. While we were yet enemies, Christ chose not to triumph over us in His might, but died for us in his mercy. His battle cry was Father forgive them. So we might sing a different hymn if we want to follow Jesus’ lead, as people do in groups like the Christian Peacemaker Team: Onward suffering servants, getting in the way of wars, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Now that’s revolutionary. And it sounds like a whisper (anybody get that reference, and name the artist and song?)
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Possession.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.