Engaging the Word: 4/9/17 (The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday)

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 By Barbara Klugh

Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.

This Sunday begins Holy Week, the week preceding Easter and the most significant week of the church year. In this week’s readings, we ponder Isaiah’s account of the humiliation and vindication of the Servant, Paul reminds us of Christ’s humiliation and exaltation, and we read Hear, and reflect upon Matthew’s account of The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Isaiah's lips anointed with fire by Benjamin West (1738-1820).

Isaiah’s lips anointed with fire by Benjamin West (1738-1820).

Isaiah 50:4-9a: The Book of Isaiah spans over a period of at least two centuries (c. 740-540 BC) and is divided into three parts. Our reading this week comes from Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55), which were prophesies of comfort to the people who were exiled in Babylon.

Our reading is the third of four Servant Songs (42:1-7, 49:1-7, 50:4-9, and 52:17-53:12). These are poems about God’s unnamed servant, who God chose to lead the nations, who is rejected and abused, yet willingly sacrifices himself for the sins of others. Not surprisingly, the servant is known as “the suffering servant.”

In this poem, the servant says, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” The servant is abused, insulted, humiliated, and spit upon; nevertheless, he does not rebel but steadfastly follows the path God has chosen for him. He knows that because God helps him, he is not disgraced. He’s not afraid of his adversaries because God will judge him, and, ultimately, he will be vindicated by the Lord God.

One of the reasons I find the Bible so rich and inspiring is that we can read a passage in more than one way and sense the hand of God no matter what our perspective. As Christians, we see Christ as the fulfillment of the suffering servant who was vindicated by God on Easter. Some think of the servant as a metaphor for the people of Israel collectively. Or, the servant may be the prophet Jeremiah or the prophet Isaiah himself. As modern people, we can think of the servant as a model for discipleship—that we may hear God’s call and remain totally obedient to God’s will, no matter how inconvenient or difficult the circumstances.

Psalm 31:9-16: In the portion of the psalm we are reading, the psalmist pours out all his sorrow to God—grief, weakness, ill health, depression, and enemies. Yet, he also turns to God in faith, and asks God to rescue him from his troubles—“Make your face to shine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me.”

Philippians 2:5-11: Our passage from Philippians is Paul’s Acclamation of Faith, which is based on an early Christian hymn. In our reading, Paul urges the Philippians (and us) to follow Christ’s ultimate example of humility. It is because Jesus gave up all that was his—his divine authority, his equality with God, his very life!—that God raised him from the dead and has given him the highest place of all. The hymn proclaims, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 Matthew 26:14 – 27:66: Our reading from Matthew’s passion account begins with Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and concludes with Christ’s body taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb. This week I’m sharing how artists depicted various events of the Passion narrative. All the images are in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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