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"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, con
cerning the word of life -- the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it ...." I John 1:1-2 (RSV)

"After his resurrection the disciples saw the living Christ, whom they knew to have died, with the eyes of faith (oculata fide)." Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 55, 2 ad 1, as quoted in D. M. Stanley, Jesus in Gethsemane (New York, Paulist Press 1980).

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Isaiah 53 - Surprised by God

The Torah, and especially the  Book of Leviticus and its teaching on the many kinds of sacrifices for sin,  prepares the mind for the servant's  offering of vicarious suffering in Is. 53. The Akedah, or "Binding of Isaac," in Gen. 22: 1-19  where Abraham, at the command of God, takes his son, Isaac, to be offered as a sacrifice is a very mysterious foreshadowing  of the kind of  sacrificial offering offered by the Is. 53 servant, although God put a stop to the sacrifice of Isaac, as a clear statement against the horrific practice of human sacrifice in pagan religion.  The writer of Is. 53 may be alluding to this previous scripture, but the offering of suffering by the servant in Is. 53 still comes as a shock.     

I have been studying Isaiah chapters 40-66 for Lent, and now I am in the middle of this amazing chapter 53.   At verses 4-5 we read: "Yet it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured. We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted, But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed."   New American Bible. Is. 53:4-5.  As stated in the New American Bible notes, "One notes the element of surprise, for such vicarious suffering, in the form described here, is without parallel in the Old Testament."   New American Bible. Is. 53:4 (note).   Because these footnotes to chapter 53 clearly put this offering in the context of OT teaching as a whole, I will quote them in part here: 

* [53:4] Struck down by God: the Bible sees suffering as a punishment for sin (e.g., Ps 6:232:15), yet sin sometimes appears to go unpunished and the innocent often suffer (cf. Ps 73; the Book of Job). In the case of the servant, the onlookers initially judge him guilty because of his suffering but, in some way not explained, they come to understand that his sufferings are for the sins of others. One notes the element of surprise, for such vicarious suffering, in the form described here, is without parallel in the Old Testament.
* [53:6] The LORD laid upon him: the servant’s suffering is no accidental or casual matter, but part of God’s plan; see also v. 10. The bystanders’ speculation of v. 4 is verified, but not in the sense intended by them.* [53:1011] Reparation offering: the Hebrew term ’asham is used of a particular kind of sacrifice, one that is intended as compensation for that which is due because of guilt. See Lv 5:1426 and note. Justify: the verb means “to be acquitted,” “declared innocent,” but since the servant bears “their iniquity,” an effective rather than simply legal action is suggested.

 New American Bible. Is. 53 (notes).