Suffering, Part IV: Redemptive Suffering   1 comment

Above:  The Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday of the Season of God the Father, Year 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O Lord Jesus, who prayed for thy disciples that they might be one even as thou art one with the Father:

draw us to thyself that, in common love and obedience to thee,

we may be united to one another in the fellowship of the one Spirit,

that the world may believe that thou art Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Amen.

or

Eternal God, who hast called us to be members of one body:

bind us to those who in all times and places have called upon thy name,

that, with one mind and heart, we may display the unity of thy church

and bring glory to thy Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 127

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Isaiah 53:1-11

1 Corinthians 11:17-26

Mark 14:17-25

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This is a devotion for World Communion Sunday, hence the Eucharistic language in Mark and 1 Corinthians, texts that speak for themselves.  I, as an Episcopalian, do not think much about World Communion Sunday, for the Holy Eucharist is our default service.  The Book of Common Prayer (1979) defines the Holy Eucharist as

the central act of Christian worship.

Why should there be just one Sunday on which as many churches as possible celebrate Communion?

I choose to focus on Isaiah 53:1-11.  The identity of the suffering servant is a topic of long-standing disagreement that reaches back into antiquity, before the birth of Christ.  My question at the moment is, who was the suffering servant at the time of the Babylonian Exile and Second Isaiah?  The most likely answer is the nation of Israel, a seemingly insignificant people who played a prominent role in divine plans and whose suffering was redemptive and salvific for Gentiles.  According to this interpretation, resurrection is a metaphor for national renewal after the exile.  Besides, a well-informed student of the development of Jewish theology knows that the resurrection of the dead was not yet part of Jewish theology.

In many ways, Jesus is a better fit for the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 because collective sin brought on the Babylonian Exile.  Nevertheless, I remind you, O reader, pious Jews studying this passage in the 500s B.C.E. were not talking about Jesus, for obvious, temporal reasons, five centuries prior to the Incarnation.

I do not know how to process the thought that the suffering of Jewish exiles during the Babylonian Exile was redemptive for Gentiles.  I suppose that one could argue that suffering brought them back to faith, thereby transforming them into a light to the nations.  One could make that case, one which the author of the Book of Jonah probably would have favored.  But what about the inward-looking, post-Exilic reaction that led to shunning Gentiles?

Anyway, suffering can lead to positive results for others, regardless of the cause of the suffering.  If one grows spiritually, that growth will influence other people, who will influence other people, et cetera.  Suffering is bad and unpleasant, but grace can bring about a high yield of benefit from it.  Thanks be to God!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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One response to “Suffering, Part IV: Redemptive Suffering

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  1. Excellent post and so true!

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