Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Man of Constant Sorrows

"I am a man of constant sorrow, I've seen trouble all my days..." are the opening phrases of a traditional folk song, first recorded around 1913 by Richard Burnett, a blind fiddler from Kentucky. It's a perfect summary of the person of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, embodied by Jesus of Nazareth. 

In today's liturgical readings Isaiah (50:4-9a) describes the Servant as a teacher, one who "sustain[s] the weary with a word." It's his God-given gift, and the Servant's effectiveness lies in the fact that Yahweh "wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught." That's the heart of meditation and contemplation: listening, really hearing. It's related to the Latin word for "obey" = ob + audire, to really absorb what God speaks in love. It's essentially what impels the Servant, not just to accept suffering, but to actually embrace it. "I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting." Lest anyone misunderstand, the Servant's stance is in no way a masochistic love of pain or of being hurt. It's rather embracing whatever goes with Yahweh's call, for an entirely greater good, and humbly relying on God's help to bring one through. "It is the Lord God who helps me."

The writer of Hebrews (12:1-3) notes that Jesus is "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of...God." The unique Suffering Servant is willing to do this "so that you may not grow weary or lose heart." It's an incentive for you and me, as we endure the difficulties, misunderstandings, betrayals, and pain of all sorts which human life necessarily entails, to keep our focus on him and on the great "cloud of witnesses" who surround us. "...let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us..." The word which our teacher, Jesus, offers us is that our very failures and the almost unbearable insufficiency of our lives are the very things which lead us into the full light of love ultimately.

John the Evangelist, in today's Gospel (13:21-32), records the depths of sadness and disappointment which Jesus experiences at the impending betrayal of one of his own, Judas Iscariot. " of you will betray me...It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread...Do quickly what you are going to do." Yet, even in the face of such blatant and seemingly unrepentant betrayal, Jesus, keeping his focus on the Father and on the higher stakes for all of us, goes forth to his suffering and death as willfully as Judas goes out into the night to do his act of treachery. The imminent sorrows, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ are the beginning of our journey into the glory of eternal life. "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once."   



Anonymous said...

BEAUTIFUL INSIGHTS! I plan to steal some of them…

John-Julian, OJN

Harry Allagree said...

Great! The insights belong to all of us.