Read Isaiah 50.4-9a

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher,

                that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.

Morning by morning he wakens—

                wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.

The Lord GOD has opened my ear,

                and I was not rebellious, 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.

The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced;

                therefore I have set my face like flint,

                                and I know that I shall not be put to shame;

                he who vindicates me is near.

Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.

Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.

It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?

 

From Rev. William Flewelling, Proctor, WV

To confront open nastiness, to know the undermining effects of others’ ambitions and apparent fears, anxieties, disdain – is not comfortable or supportive or even at all of any obvious positive function. That place in which one works out the inner drives of life and tries to manage some sort of creative and productive development of plans and hopes, perhaps even the creative evolution of vocation – all against the tide of those disruptions – that place is testy. Far too common experience attests it – in churches, in families, society, workplaces.

Here we find Isaiah talking of his own vocation, talking (we Christians easily recognize) as well about the precision effect of Jesus in his ministry and in his passion. God has called and the prophet knows his own necessity: everything lies within the immense vocation, the intensity of his life at God’s insistence. God calls and Jesus bears the call as the foundation of his soul: it is who he is. The open nastiness appears in smiting the back, plucking the beard, finding the face the target of shame and spitting. Bluntly, such is not nice. These days, that list of assaults may well be metaphorical: the violence in many of our circles tends to be less physical, more by innuendo and slur. But that hedging is not always true: the newspapers or news reports regularly tell us so.

Caught in the call of God to follow Jesus, we follow a man whose spirit and truth truly rankled the powers that be in Jerusalem, both Jewish (Sadducee as well as Pharisee, priestly caste as well as the legally pious lay exemplars) and Roman. He simply did not fit into the schemes and understanding both Jew and Roman could comprehend. He made no sense to those who play at power and manipulation and overt control; he cared for the poor, intervened for the oppressed, addressed the fundamental dignity of those denied any dignity. And he leads those he calls into that same hotbed of indignation over his presence and his kindness, his compassion and mercy, the fierce and unsettling vigor of his humility – the meekest of all men, as was once said of Moses; he leads us into that realm in which open nastiness is met with patience, forbearance, graciousness and forgiveness.

 

Our God, as Jesus calls us, our vocation becomes his own.

Lead us in the profound graciousness of Jesus, your call upon our hearts this hour.

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