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Isaiah 50:4-9a

Isaiah 50:4-9a Word for the Weary Teachers know the only way to learn comes through observation and repetition as proven throughout history and across cultures. Whether it is how to assemble an engine, prepare a feast, or tie the laces of a shoe, the one learning how to do it needs the one who already knows standing nearby. As the learner practices the task, the teacher will be there to correct or encourage. In time, the learner might just become the teacher, and the cycle continues. The Christian year gives Christ followers the time to observe and repeat, hear the Scriptures and walk in these words year after year. As the season of Lent draws to a close with what is traditionally known as Palm Sunday, it is also a time to reflect on why Lent is so important to the Christian year. For the Liturgy of the Palms/Passion, the words of the Hebrew prophet found in Isaiah attempt to vindicate the heart of the teacher found in the Servant. Today’s Old Testament reading is the third of four passages in the latter half of Isaiah referred to as the Servant Songs (Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:1-7, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12). The figure of the Servant has been compared to the nation of Israel by Jewish interpreters and to the coming Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth by Christian readers. Historically, the post-exilic leader Zerubbabel has been identified as the Servant. Regardless of the true identity of the Servant, this person suffers on behalf of the people in unwavering obedience to the Lord. Isaiah 50:4-9a is sandwiched between two scathing passages filled with questions to a rebellious nation to which the people of God’s choosing have no answer (Is 50:1-3 and 50:10-11, cf 51:12-13). The history of God’s people continually points to the inability to listen from the first few days after fleeing Egypt to the return of the exiles from Babylon. To ability hear God, for the Hebrew people, is synonymous with the ability to obey. The people of God have trouble obeying the One they claim to follow. In the second half of Isaiah’s scrolls, the people have been called back to the promised land from a season of exile (Is 49:8-12). What should have been a time of celebration became one of conflict with rising tensions between the people living in the land and the returning exiles (Ezra 3:1-5). Caught in the middle was Zerubbabel, the leader of the exiles intent on rebuilding Jerusalem, the ideal of Zion, the place where God can be present. It’s possible that the words of Isaiah in verses 4 to 9 refer to the harried teacher and leader of a people unwilling again to be led where God wants them to go. In contrast to the obstinate disobedience of the people, the Servant stands as a singular figure capable of living in what Nietzsche, in the work Beyond Good and Evil, called “long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” The Servant admits to having a “well-taught tongue” (MSG). It is the ability to speak from hard-won ideals derived not from the scattered dreams of starry nights but in the full light of the morning. The Servant has been gifted with the “tongue of a teacher” (NRSV) or in another rendering, “the tongue of disciples” (NASB). Both are essentially correct interpretation, for the only way to teach is to learn, the only way to lead to be able to follow. In the words of the Servant, the Lord “wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.” (50:4c). For the Servant, the ability to walk in obedience and the gifting to teach this way to others who are often tired of the long road ahead sometimes produces not reward but derision from fellow travelers.The received wisdom of the Servant comes from the “God of the long view”