The year is ca. 550 BC. The People of God are in exile in Babylon. Isaiah writes to encourage God’s people to be strong in the face of trials. A “Servant of Yahweh” appears in Isaiah’s writings. Four “songs” are written.
|1||42:1-6||He will bring justice to the nations|
|2||49:1-6||I make you a light to the nations|
|3||50:4-9||My back to those who beat me|
|4||52:13-53:12||Bruised for our iniquities|
This servant is never identified by Isaiah. Biblical scholars have debated hotly as to who this might be. Several answers are possible. But let’s look at the bible passage for today, and leave the “who” for later. Today’s passage is the third song. To understand the whole package, it is good if you’d read all four songs.
- God gave this unnamed Servant the gift of inspired teaching. Each morning, God speaks to him, and he obeys God’s call. (vv. 4-5)
- The Servant suffers for heeding God’s call. The Servant’s faith and committment is strong. He remains resolute. (v. 6)
- The Servant finds strength in his faith. The phrase “set my face like flint” reminds me of Indian arrowheads. Have you ever held one? They are hard, and they are sharp. This is the hardness of the Servant’s strength! “You wanna fight? BRING IT ON! God is on my side!” (vv. 7-9)
Two basic interpretations are possible for this reading. Both are valid. Choose which you prefer.
1. This is an Old Testament prophesy about Jesus the Messiah, prophesied by Isaiah over 600 years before Jesus’ birth. All these Servant Songs certainly sound like they’re talking about Jesus. Jesus demonstrated this strength in his faith-walk while here on earth. We should do likewise.
2. God recognized the desperation of the people in exile, and sent them a word of encouragement. This Servant could be anyone or everyone. Jeremiah suffered in this way. It is likely that many others in exile also suffered for their faith. 200 years before the birth of Jesus, the Jews were under intense pressure to conform to Greek customs and religious practices. The atrocities are written down in the book of Maccabees. These words would also be a comfort and source of strength to them. Jesus personified these words when he walked this earth. He is our role model. Many, many others since Jesus have suffered for their faith. Let us all set our face like flint, and know that it is the Lord God Yahweh who helps us when our faith is challenged.
The book of James appears to be more of a collection of Christian wisdom than a letter from an individual. Chapter Three focuses on one particular subject—the danger of loose lips and false teaching. If you look at verse one and verses eight and nine, the problem is clearly stated.
- Teachers of the Word are held to a higher standard than others. (Now, I’m getting nervous!) Teaching is one of the spiritual gifts listed by Paul several times in his writings. Teachers were, and still are, a crucial part of God’s church on earth. (v. 1)
- James admits that nobody’s perfect. Everybody’s going to make mistakes. Later, he goes beyond this statement, however. (v. 2)
- James gives us several analogies which demonstrate how something small cam control something much larger. (vv. 3-7)
- In verse 8, James lets the cat out of the bag—he’s talking about our tongues. What damage we can do with that little thing! (v. 8)
- In verses 9 & 10, we get a hint of what he’s talking about. It is believed that some of the religious leaders (teachers), were acting less Christ-like and more human-like, cursing people more than loving them.
- James gives some contrasting images, to make us consider our actions. His point is that if you are “in Christ”, you give up these evil ways, and walk in the way of Jesus; the way of love. There is no room for these old behaviors. (vv. 10-12)
I can tell you from experience that an unbridled tongue is a dangerous thing. We have all said things that we regret. Once said, they are impossible to fully retract. It is critical for us to remember our “place”. We are Christians. We represent all our brothers and sisters. We do this in what we do and in what we say.
Today’s gospel is about Peter recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, and about what it means to follow Jesus. This is a familiar story, because it appears in three gospels. If you like, check out Matthew 16 and Luke 9. Compare the three, to see what each writer includes and omits.
- Jesus and his disciples have been travelling. They are now hitting the villages of Caesarea Philippi, to the north of the Sea of Galilee. Along the way, he asks a simple question—“Who do people say that I am?” (v. 27)
- Their answer might seem strange to us. Keep in mind that they did not have CNN or Fox News. Everything was word of mouth. No newspapers, headline news, or editorial pages. You had to figure things out by yourself. Herod himself wondered if Jesus might be John the Baptist raised from the dead. (Mark 6:14-16) You may recall from the Old Testament that Elijah did not die, but was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. People expected him to return as a precursor to the coming of the Messiah. So, the disciples’ answers were not surprising to Jesus. (v. 28)
- Then comes the clincher—“Who do YOU say that I am?” Only Peter has the nerve to answer. “You are the Messiah.” (“The son of God” is omitted by Mark, as is the renaming of Simon to be Peter, the rock.) (v. 29)
- He says “Don’t tell anybody!” This is difficult, but necessary. He has a lot of teaching ahead of him. If everyone starts calling him the Messiah, they’re going to expect stuff he’s not ready to deliver. (v. 30)
- Since Peter has declared Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus teaches them what the Messiah’s mission truly is. The world expects the Messiah to be a warrior king who delivers them from the clutches of the Roman occupation. Jesus is not interested in politics, but in our souls. (v. 31)
- Peter, bless his heart, doesn’t get it. He’s thinking like a human; he’s thinking politics. He tells Jesus “Hey, man, don’t talk like that. You’re the Messiah. Don’t talk about suffering and dying.” [My personal paraphrase.] (v. 32)
- Jesus turns Peter’s rebuke back on Peter. He calls Peter Satan! I guess if he’s going to resist God the Father and Son’s mission, then he deserves the title. Jesus tells Peter that he’s thinking like a human, and not like a disciple. (v. 33)
- Jesus goes on to explain how to think like disciple. (This is where we come in.) We need to be prepared to be like Jesus, willing to “take up our cross and follow him”. We need to be so committed to following him that we are willing to die for him. We need to be like the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. (vv. 34-38)
This is not easy, but it is what we are called to do. It is called the cost of discipleship.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Are you ready and willing to take up your cross and follow Jesus, regardless of the cost?