Palm Sunday: Year A

Since there is a lot of liturgy this week with many readings, I would like to comment on the figure emerging from within several places in Isaiah 40-55, notably in Palm Sunday’s reading of Isa. 50:4-7, but really marbled throughout that prophetic text. The material shares vocabulary and motifs to describe the demeanor of an individual or perhaps group who evidently lived in Babylon during the 6th century exile and suffered, whether at the hands of the victorious oppressor or perhaps from his/her/their own people. There is much that is mysterious about the passages, but what emerges is that the Servant, as "he" is called, acts from a nonviolence of the strong rather than the weak. It is that aspect--the strength to resist wrong and to choose not to retaliate--that makes the Isaian servant figure helpful for understanding Jesus’ reaction and response to his suffering, including the injustice and violence of it. To me the figure of the Servant gains depth if the unjust suffering comes at the hands of friends, compatriots, and co-religionists, which is easily imaginable in the circumstances under which the exiles lived. Feminist and post-colonial readers have helped us see the importance of not simply interpreting by allowing the character (the Servant, Jesus, ourselves) to submit through lack of alternatives, despair or fear. There is not much to emulate there. But to understand what is happening, to rely on God, to refuse compliance with the injustice but to live in such as way as to maintain a courageous integrity: That is a challenge, lifelong. Barbara Green, O.P.

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