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."

Listen, hear

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 listening.

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?