THE TONGUE OF THOSE WHO ARE TAUGHT
(A biblical reflection on PALM SUNDAY [Year B], 29 March 2015)
The Procession: Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16
First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalms: Psalm 22:8-9,17-20,23-24; Second Reading: Philippians 2:6-11; Gospel Reading: 14:1-15:47
The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning He wakens, He wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. (Isaiah 50:4-7 RSV).
The use of words is no small skill. St. Augustine of Hippo [354-430] once held the chair of rhetoric. In time, he came to see this position as his “chair of lies”. Of course words also function to inspire, instruct and challenge people to do great deeds of heroism. In our age we have made “talk” a very profitable industry. It is hard to find a station or network which does not carry one or more talk-shows. From talk-radio to talk-shows on TV, we search for those with well-trained tongues.
Our first reading from Isaiah is the third of the Servant Songs. God’s Servant has been given “a well-trained tongue”. However, the benefits are not what we might expect. There is no celebrity status, no audience offering approval. The crowd is not hanging on the Servant’s every word. Far from it. “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6). Talk about a tough audience!
Why does the Lord’s Servant receive such rough treatment? His well-trained tongue is not to be used to impress and draw attention to himself. The Servant of the Lord is to “speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” The Lord’s Servant is to be found among the victims, the rejected, the marginalized, the outcasts of history. All those who are weary from the heavy yoke of slavery will find a word of support and renewal. All those who are burdened with the daily concerns of survival and making ends meet will find a voice of consolation. The Lord’s Servant is found among the powerless. The reaction of the so-called victors is one of hatred and violence. The Lord’s will must be silenced. Disgrace must come to the Lord’s mouthpiece.
However, the Servant of the Lord will never abandon his vocation. High ratings and celebrity acceptance are unimportant. “For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:7). Jesus is the Servant of the Lord who empties Himself of glory and takes on our human condition. He is nailed to the cross and is numbered among the criminals and the despised. Jesus is one with our human condition. He is found among all those who are denied basic dignity and respect. Jesus’ vindication is not to be found in human respect. Rather, the fidelity of Jesus is such that “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). God never forgets His own. Fidelity to one’s calling is true success.
On the Passion Sunday we turn our faces to Jerusalem. We must be in solidarity with the Man of Sorrows, the Servant of the Lord. We too must be in fellowship with all the victims of oppression, injustice, hatred and neglect. The world tells us that it is the victors who write history. However, the example of Jesus shows us how we come to recognize the real victors. The real victors speak words that comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable. The real victors are humbled so as to be exalted by God. The cross of defeat become the symbol of real victory.
The life and death of Jesus speaks to us with eloquences beyond words. The cross is the ultimate testimony of God’s love. It is the only answer to sin and death. Does such a testimony find its way into our hearts?
Short Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have given the human race Jesus Christ – our Lord and Savior – as a model of humility. He fulfilled Your will by becoming man and giving His life on the cross. Help us to bear witness to You by following His example in suffering and make us worthy to share in His resurrection. Amen.
Jakarta, 27 March 2015
A Christian Pilgrim