This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
BABY GIRL KILLED IN VICTORY –OVER- GBAGBO VIOLENCE
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the LORD, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.
While Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
The profound and cunning theologian who wrote chapters 40-55 of the book of Isaiah towards the end of the sixth
century BC has been a crucial influence on Christianity, firstly through Jesus’ use of it and then through its use by the writers of the New Testament. I say Jesus’ use of it, but there is no specific evidence of this other than the certainty that he would have known it and the course of his public ministry which seems to reflect the work of “The Servant” in these chapters and especially in those poems which scholars call, “the servant songs,” of which the one quoted above is the first.Whether the servant is seen as an individual or as an ideal Israel is less important than the clarity of its description, “Here is my servant, my beloved I whom my soul delights”:
1. The servant in anointed with God’s Spirit to create justice on earth
2. The servant is neither a demagogue nor a violent innovator but cares for the weak and the hurt
3. The servant is nevertheless indomitable for God’s justice
4. The servant makes God’s new covenant with humanity
5. The servant liberates humanity from oppression
It’s right that Christian believers should see the consonance between this description and the ministry of Jesus but perhaps even more important to see the dissonance between it and the ministry of the Christian churches, especially the more demagogic and oppressive denominations. And even those of us who’ve tried to serve people in their need have to ask, “but did we serve God and his justice?”
The beautiful, ironic story of the anointing at Bethany is typical of Mark. In the precise imagery of the alabaster jar and the precious ointment he mimes the breaking open of the rich treasure of this woman’s soul in her love of Jesus. Her act is not only extravagant but also breaks social taboos about the behaviour of women. Her anointing of Jesus is a sign of her faith in him as Messiah (anointed one) but Jesus praises it as an understanding of his death. She knows that he is the anointed one only as the crucified one. Because of her understanding love she already shares in Jesus’ suffering and is part of the Gospel for ever. I have always been moved when reading this passage in worship that Jesus’ prophecy comes true as we read it, “Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world what she has done will told in memory of her.”