Sunday's first reading (Isaiah 50:4-7) not
only sets the theme for our readings but also guides our entire celebration
of Holy Week.
The oft-quoted prophet is deeply reflective. He
delivers Yahweh's word to the Israelites exiled in Babylon six centuries
before Christ and - in at least three extended passages - focuses on
what it means for him to be the conscience of his people.
Though convinced of his prophetic calling,
Isaiah is just as convinced that he's different from his prophetic
predecessors. Everything in his life is unique because of one repetitive
event: "Morning after morning," he states, "Yahweh opens my
ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back."
Scripture scholar Carroll Stuhlmueller often
reminded us students that the best definition of a disciple of God in the
entire Bible is this: Every morning, God's true followers hit the floor
Carroll always pointed out that the Hebrew word
the prophet employs for "open" is the same word our sacred authors
used when they were speaking about someone drilling a well. Our ears aren't
naturally open to hearing God's word. If we really want to know what He
has in mind for us, we must be willing to drill out our ears daily, opening
them to hear things those around us never seem to hear - and to look in a
direction others never seem to notice.
That's why Isaiah sees and hears the
"weary," while others look right through them, never hearing their
cries. Those others are the very people who most need to be roused by Yahweh's
word of consolation and love.
We can only speculate how often the historical
Jesus reflected on His own ministry. No doubt Isaiah's reflections guided
Him in the process. We believe Jesus, of all people, possessed the most
"drilled-out" ears. He deeply identified with His prophetic
predecessor on that level.
Yahweh's word led Jesus to those who found
life boring and burdensome. His ministry brought meaning and joy to people
on the fringe of Jewish society and religious life.
Paul employs an early Christian hymn to remind
the Philippians about their obligation to integrate the "mind of
Jesus" into their relations with others (Philippians 2:6-11). Like Him,
they're to be open to God's voice calling them to empty themselves of
anything that would stop them from becoming one with the "slaves"
in their community and to be so one with them that outsiders would actually
think they were slaves.
Jesus did that because He listened, which He
expected His followers to do.
Asked by God
Notice how Sunday's Gospel (Mark 14:1-15:47)
leads us to a different dimension when we hear it against the background of
Jesus' constantly listening to Yahweh.
We are accustomed to thinking Jesus is just
following a "script" that was handed to Him by His Father, so we
ignore the unknown that He faced day by day. Like ourselves, each morning He
wondered what new things God would ask of Him, things God hadn't asked the
day before. Only by being attentive to Yahweh's word did Jesus have the
courage to face death.
Holy Thursday and Good Friday weren't the
only days during which He heard God asking Him to totally empty Himself.
Jesus had been doing that every day for a long time. Each time He did, He
found Himself entering a deeper level of life. Why would three o'clock on
that Friday afternoon be any different?