For the Wednesday of Holy Week, we consider the second Suffering Servant poem, found in Isaiah 49:1-7. This is a text full of images and inspirations. In his commentary in “Feasting on the Word; Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary” Year B, volume 2, eds. Bartlett and Brown Taylor, Westminster John Knox Press, 2008 Allan Hugh Cole, Jr., of Austin Presbyterian Seminary in Texas notes this about the opening verse, which calls to us twice to listen to the word of God.
“Contemporary people, including people of faith, tend not to listen well. Life’s pace and demands burden our attention span and get in the way of listening. Moreover, many of us tend to be suspicious when it comes to listening to someone talk so confidently about God, particularly when this listening includes lending credence to the one who claims to speak on God’s behalf. Understandably so! There are too many false prophets in our time. Such self-appointed vessels of divine posture and pleasure presume too much about God and themselves, just as they did in Isaiah’s time.”
“The basis for the prophet’s plea, however, is not primarily the messenger, but rather the message. Moreover, if we believe that God speaks through people, as both the Bible and tradition have long held, then we must find ways to temper our suspicion about giving an ear to such spokespersons with openness to two possibilities. The first is that God still has something significant to say, and to say to US. The second is that God’s servants, who function as God’s spokespersons, are the means by which God chooses to say it. And that is true whether the servant is a particular person (e.g., a preacher, politician, homeless person, or prisoner), a collection of persons (e.g., a congregation, denomination, advocacy group, or mission organization), or even a larger nation or people.”
Of course listening is only the very first part of this text. Then we are to do something with the message we have heard. Isaiah speaks of his powerful sense that God has called him and given him work to do (verses 1b through 5) and, in verse 6, gives him an ever greater message and task. That task reaches all the way to us, and if we can listen well, that task calls us to the same level of response Isaiah gave. Are we listening? Can we hear the voice of God through the voices outside and inside of us? It is not too much of a stretch to hear God saying, to us as was said to Isaiah, “The Holy One of Israel has chosen you.”