Today’s Deutero-Isaiah pericope not only sets the theme for our readings, it’s a guide for our entire celebration of Holy Week.
This anonymous, yet oft-quoted prophet is deeply reflective. He not only delivers Yahweh’s word to the Israelites exiled in Babylon during the sixth century, BCE, but in at least three extended passages he also focuses in on what it means for him to be the conscience of his people. Our liturgical selection is the third and last of his formal reflections. (There’s one more; but that’s composed by his followers after his martyrdom.)
Though convinced of his prophetic calling, Deutero-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.”
Carroll Stuhlmueller often reminded us students that this is the best definition of a disciple of God in the entire Bible. God’s true followers hit the floor every morning listening. Carroll always pointed out that the Hebrew word which the prophet employs for “open” is the same word our sacred authors use when they’re speaking about someone drilling a well. Our ears aren’t naturally open to hearing God’s word. If we really want to know what God 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, to look in a direction others never seem to notice.
That’s why Deutero-Isaiah sees and hears the “weary,” while others look right through them, never hearing their cries. Those 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 Deutero-Isaiah’s reflections guided him 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 him 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.
No wonder Paul employs this particular early Christian hymn to remind the Philippians about their obligation to integrate the “mind of Jesus” into their relations with others. 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; to be so one with them that outsiders would actually think they were slaves. Jesus did this only because he listened; the same thing he expected his followers to do.
Notice how today’s Marcan Passion Narrative leads us to be a different dimension when we hear it against the background of Jesus constantly listening to Yahweh. Accustomed to thinking he’s just following a “script” handed him by his Father at a place and time in eternity, we ignore the unknown which he faced day by day. Like ourselves, each morning he wondered what new things God would ask of him that day, 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 ask 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?
Instead of spending so much time as children learning answers to catechism questions, we’d find our faith much more exciting today if someone had simply taught us how to listen. If they had, there’d be fewer weary people in the church and world today.