1Listen to me, O coastlands, and hearken, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. 2He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. 3And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 4But I said, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.” 5And now the LORD says, who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength — 6he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Psalms 71:1-6, 15, 17
1In thee, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! 2In thy righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline thy ear to me, and save me! 3Be thou to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for thou art my rock and my fortress. 4Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. 5For thou, O Lord, art my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.6Upon thee I have leaned from my birth; thou art he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of thee. 15My mouth will tell of thy righteous acts, of thy deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. 17O God, from my youth thou hast taught me, and I still proclaim thy wondrous deeds.
21When Jesus had thus spoken, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus;24so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, “Tell us who it is of whom he speaks.” 25So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.27Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30So, after receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night.31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified;32if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going you cannot come.’36Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.” 37Peter said to him, “Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.
Like the Suffering Servant, all of us are called by the Lord to serve Him by being His witnesses of light and love in the world. This was what He told the Suffering Servant. “It is not enough for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Our call to serve the Lord goes beyond serving our own kind, that is, our loved ones, but our fellowmen as well. Many of us are willing to serve God but in truth we are serving ourselves. We only care for those whom we love, especially our family members. But we are blind to the needs of the community, especially those who are suffering and in need. The love that we have is confined only to our dear ones. This is not the kind of service that Christ envisaged. It is a service to all. Our love must be inclusive. This is the love and service of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah and our Lord.
Secondly, this call was given to us even before we were born. “The Lord called me before I was born; from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.” Every call and vocation is unique. There is no basis for comparison. Vanity it is for us to ask why I am not a doctor or a teacher or a priest, etc. It is the Lord who calls us and He has a special role for us to fulfill in His divine plan. To each, He provides us the necessary charism to do our work. The Suffering Servant said, “He made my mouth a sharp sword, and hid me in the shadow of his hand. He made me into a sharpened arrow, and concealed me in his quiver.” In this way, he could be a true prophet of His word and strike the hearts of the people by his preaching and prophecy. Indeed, the Lord has formed him “in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, to gather Israel to him.” So our vocation is not by chance nor is our life meant to be lived in vain, without a purpose or without a role for the service of His people. We are not created to live for ourselves but to live for others. Otherwise, life has no meaning or purpose. We are created by love and for love.
In a special way, Jesus took upon Himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Suffering Servant. He taught many times in the gospel that He had come as a servant to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. (cf Mk 10:45) St Paul in his letter to the Philippians described Him as a servant as well. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8)
Thirdly, our vocation must be seen in the overall context of a bigger plan of God. This is true of the Suffering Servant and also true of Jesus and all of us. Within this context, we can appreciate why the bible often sees the enfolding of the history of Israel as all within the plan of God, including the death of Jesus. He enlightened the disciples at Emmaus, “’Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Lk 24:25-27) So in the plan of God, nothing happens by chance. God works everything to our good if we cooperate with Him. St Paul wrote, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Rom 8:28-30)
Fourthly, we must realize that our task is simply to fulfill the plan of God and to do His will. To be a servant does not mean to be ambitious like the apostles who were seeking for power and places of honour. It does not matter whether we are successful in worldly terms or failures in the eyes of the world. We should not be too concerned what kind of name we are crafting for ourselves in history. What is more important is that we are faithful. Indeed, when the Suffering Servant was lamenting his failure, thinking that he had “toiled in vain” and exhausted himself “for nothing”, the Lord assured him, “You are my servant (Israel) in whom I shall be glorified.” The truth, as the Suffering Servant discovered, was that God was with him. He might seem to have lost the battle but God was winning the battle for him. He said, “all the while my cause was with the Lord, my reward with my God. I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord, my God was my strength.”
For this reason, in all that we do, we must entrust our cause to the Lord, since that calling came from Him. We should not allow disappointments and failures to upset us too easily. If we are called to do the Lord’s will and if we seek His will, not ours, then there is no failure, even when the world considers it a failure. It is only a failure when we do not cooperate with His grace, regardless how successful we are in the world. Consequently, in whatever we do, we must trust in the Lord who is our refuge and strength. He is the Lord of Hosts. As the psalmist says, “In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your justice rescue me, free me: pay heed to me and save me. Be a rock where I can take refuge, a mighty stronghold to save me; for you are my rock, my stronghold.”
Like Jesus, although troubled in spirit, He did not flinch from doing the will of His Father. Humanly, He felt the pain of betrayal by Judas, one of the Twelve. There is no greater pain than that of being betrayed by people closest to us and those whom we trust most. Even St Peter who professed his love and loyalty failed Him like the rest. He did not stop Judas from going against the plan of God. Jesus accepted the weaknesses of His apostles. Like St Peter, we all make great professions of love and loyalty, but when it comes to living out our promises, we fail. This is true in marriage and even in priestly and religious commitments. We take beautiful vows only to break them. Jesus was not idealistic. He knew the weak nature of us all. And so with St Peter, Jesus remarked, “Lay down your life for me? I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.”
But He knew that somehow God would have the upper hand, not Judas or wicked men. On the contrary, He saw this in the light of faith, for He said, “Now has the Son of Man been glorified, and in him God has been glorified. If God has been glorified in him, God will in turn glorify him in himself, and will glorify him very soon.” Through the betrayal of Judas and His death, He would glorify the Father by showing us His love and mercy; and in turn the Father will glorify Him by raising Him from the dead. He knew that after the threefold denial of Peter, there will be a threefold affirmation of His love. So in confidence, let us follow the path of the psalmist and pray confidently when we feel like giving up or when we feel so helpless. “Free me from the hand of the wicked. It is you, O Lord, who are my hope, my trust, O Lord, since my youth. On you I have leaned from my birth, from my mother’s womb you have been my help.”