March 16, 2008
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11;
Matthew 26:14—27:66 (Liturgy of the Passion)
There is no story more important to Christians than the Passion. There are no more central Messianic prophecies than the “suffering servant” songs of Isaiah. And there is no better summary of Christ’s role than the Christ-hymn of Philippians.
With so much going on in these great texts, we might easily miss what God is saying as we pray this Psalm, in the midst of these proclamations of Christ.
For the Passion, the suffering servant, the Philippians hymn, all describe one who is an outcast. Insults, bullying, gossip, layoffs, illness, divorce, aging, scandal, rejection. There are so many ways to be out, not in. Everyone I know has been in this position, though it is one we would all rather flee.
Yet this Sunday, this Holy Week, in fact every Sunday and every week, God directs us again and again to attend to the one who is suffering. In the Passion, we look to Jesus as his life becomes this Psalm: “My enemies insult me. Neighbors are even worse, and I disgust my friends. People meet me on the street, and they turn and run. I am completely forgotten, like someone dead. I am merely a broken dish” (Ps 31:11-12, CEV).
The most ubiquitous ancient artifact in Biblical lands, found in uncounted billions, is the potsherd, broken pieces of the clay vessels that were used in every home and palace. When a dish broke, there were no super adhesives, so from the dawn of civilization, broken dishes were thrown away, the broken pieces of pottery littering ancient cities.
In looking to Jesus, perhaps we may also attend to our own experience of suffering. “Have pity, LORD! I am hurting...” (Ps 31:9, CEV). Like broken dishes, the pieces of our lives are scattered, as are the fractured parts of our families, towns, churches, nations.
This week we will hear how Jesus is broken. His Passion is not only the violence wrought upon his body. He suffered also in the way his friends turned and ran, the way even God seemed to abandon him to his fate.
Yet in his Passion and the days which follow, listen too for the Word, which we’ll hear again and again, how God in Christ gathers up the broken pieces.
Jesus had been gathering broken people into a community of hope. Better than holy super glue, his life creates a new community, bringing outcasts together, repaired by love. And in his kingdom, in the church, in the presence of God, and with our neighbors, suffering need not be magnified by isolation.
Available with additional content at the American Bible Society's Bible Resource Center.
Illustrations added March, 2011. Photo of Hecatompylos is © Jona Lendering for Livius.Org, 2005