Opening The Old Testament
Passion/Palm Sunday: Reflections on Isaiah 50:4-9
The poet now moves to a courtroom and demands with vigor, "Who shall contend with me," more literally, "who will go to court with me?" Come on, says the servant, if you dare! "Let us stand up together," you and I, mano a mano! "Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me" (Is. 50:8b). The servant is confident and sure that he/she can overcome any adversaries, because "It is YHWH God who helps me (see vs. 7); who will declare me guilty?" With YHWH on the servant's side, there is finally nothing to fear.
Little wonder that the early Christians seized on these words and applied them to the one who had just been arrested, tried, and murdered by his enemies. They now faced a fate similar to the one whom they knew to be their Lord. How were they to face the trials that they felt sure were to come? Isaiah 50:4-9 was one of their answers. Their master had given them the word that God had given him, and he had done that in the teeth of fierce and intractable opposition. He had been struck and insulted and spit upon, but he had not turned back, because he knew that his God was helping him, vindicating him, contending on his behalf. He had set his face like flint. Yes, he had died, but they believed against all reality that his final vindication had occurred, and that he was now alive, his teaching still lived, his servanthood made true by the God who had redeemed him from death.
His followers could now tread his path, precisely because the same God who had called him, had called them. They now were those whose tongue had been taught to listen and speak the truth about this man, this servant who was now their Lord. And we, his modern followers, now join their company, trained to speak a truth the world still needs to hear, a word to sustain the weary of our own time.
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.