The Suffering Servant; Monday of Holy Week

Image: Sunrise in Tuktoyaktuk
Is 42.1-7  |  Ps 27  |  Jn 12.1-11

The “Servant songs“,  in the book of the prophet Isaiah describe a tireless figure chosen by God to faithfully bring about justice even at great personal cost. The characteristics of the servant are humility, fairness and obedience. In the Jewish tradition the suffering servant was typically considered a reference to the people of Israel who had suffered great persecution but had been chosen by God to establish a just and peaceful society in the land which God had promised them. Christians, see the person of the servant as a foreshadowing of Jesus who embodies God’s peaceful reign on earth while undergoing unimaginable suffering on the road to Calvary.

Our Gospel today invites us to reflect on another person from the scriptures who exemplifies these servant characteristics and that is Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. It was Mary who had stood before Jesus and had chastised him for his lateness when her brother, Lazarus, was ill and then died. It was Mary’s intervention that moved Jesus first to anger and then to tears as he wept over the body of his friend before restoring him to life. Mary exhibits the characteristics of the suffering servant who is a figure of strength and conviction and who will not bend in the wind or be intimidated even when it comes to pleading the cause of justice before God.

The strength of character found in the servant is not stained by pride. Mary shows profound gratitude first by honoring Jesus as she anoints his feet with the precious nard and then with sincere humility as she kneels and dries his feet with her own hair. Mary’s act of servant-hood cannot be missed. Its powerful message courses throughout the crowd on the fragrant waves of perfume that fill the air. There is no one watching this scene who cannot be moved by what is taking place. The community has been restored by the re-birth of Lazarus and Mary ensures that the glory belongs entirely to God.

Compare Mary’s actions to that of Judas. As a self-designated spokesperson Judas undermines Mary’s priceless gift to Jesus by lowering the whole event to the level of economics while underneath, his true motivation is greed. Mary’s selfless act is a powerful symbol of reverence and awe in the face of the divine. Judas’s words are shallow, self-serving and base.

When we consider the actions of Mary and those of Judas, which characteristics, which actions would serve to make a better world?

Jesus’ words to Judas remind us that the justice that God offers to the world is not superficial. When Jesus says, “You will always have the poor with you” he is not dismissing the injustice of poverty but our own response to it. To often we place the blame on God’s shoulders while failing to take our own responsibility seriously. To dismiss God because life is hard, and things are not perfect is too simplistic an approach.

Mary’s gift reminds us to look deeper, to become aware of the many ways that God is present and acting in the world and how we are called to be a part of that work. He is calling each one of us, like Mary, to become his servants, faithfully working for justice and peace, persevering even when it is difficult.

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