File this, if you will, under “Things you notice at Easter”. Isaiah was a prophet who lived and ranted about 800 years before Jesus. He spoke enigmatically about a character called “the suffering servant”. This fellow, who arrives at the end of the book of Isaiah, was someone who was going to endure some godawful pain and somehow play a significant role in the way God would bring about the restoration of Israel.
But I sometimes think that Israel didn’t know what to make of this suffering servant character. He was far less attractive than the kickass Messiah dude who beats up many-headed dragons that rise out of the water. The suffering servant feels like small print prophecy to me. Had there been the equivalent of Jewish youth pastors they would have fudged the crap out of questions posed by observant Torah reading teens who had noticed this strange masochistic motif at the back end of that big ass book.
It wasn’t until the early Christians, to their utter astonishment, found they had to claim that a dead man was alive again, that the suffering servant idea found its home. In fact, the fittingness of the suffering servant motif with the Christian proclamation is one of the reasons you shouldn’t be so fast to discard Christianity.
Put succinctly, here’s my proposal: When the guys who are making the story up can’t find a place for it, but all of a sudden, 800 years later, a bunch of fisherman click the book of Isaiah together so the bits that didn’t make sense suddenly do make sense and the whole book is transformed to have deeper, more profound meaning, then there might be something to their interpretation.
Anyway, I was trying to make an Easter point. Isaiah 53 is one of the suffering servant bits. He, the servant:
was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
In the first line you see the suffering. The servant is buried with the wicked. But then the second line is confusing. He was also put in a tomb with the rich in his death. The third line relates to the first line. He had done no violence but still ended up with the wicked. That implies the fourth line relates to the second. He had no deceit in his mouth but he was condemned to lie with the rich.
Let me spell this out for you. It has taken me ten years of reading the Bible to realise it so I don’t blame you if you haven’t caught on yet. The prophet Isaiah calls those who do violence wicked. And he calls those who have deception in their mouth rich.
The Bible says the rich are deceitful.
I’m in the top 9% of wealthiest people on planet Earth. The Bible therefore is recommending you shouldn’t trust a word I say.
God has been relentless with me and my community this Lent and Easter. But maybe this is one gleaning that I can store up and contemplate. The early Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53 and all the suffering servant strands brought transforming sense to passages that were previously cryptic. But they are so rich that they still yield the good stuff even after all these years of hearing them and reading them.
Jesus is buried in tombs reserved for the violent wicked. We get that. He is a substitute for us in our violent wickedness. But he is also buried in tombs reserved for the deceitful rich. That is something the church downplays. That is our own version of small print theology. He is our substitute for us in our self deluding wealth.
Your Correspondent, Bleeds onto another page