Isaiah 42 1-4, 6-7: My servant in whom my soul delights
There is a curious ambiguity — perhaps deliberate — about the identity of the Suffering Servant in the prophecy of Isaiah; but this adds to, rather than detracts from, the wealth of meaning which it contains.
In the Old Testament, Moses the prophet is often referred to as God's Servant; the same is true of David the King. The title may have been chosen by Isaiah because it covers different types of charismatic leader. It could refer to a particular individual, perhaps an historical figure or someone known to the prophet, perhaps even the prophet himself.
At the same time the Servant could be taken as a sort of collective figure — the people of Israel, not necessarily the historical people but the idealised People of God, suffering patiently and awaiting their vindica tion.
Most likely a combination of the two is what the prophet intends — the ideal Servant of God, the perfect Israelite, who, like so many leaders of the past, responds perfectly to the insistent demands of God.
Not that such a picture exhausts the idea — for the Servant is also a teacher who will be a light to all people. He will bring forth justice and peace; what is more, he will do it without doing violence, however much violence is done to him.
Acts 10 34-42: God has no favourites
The early Church was much exercised by the question of whether the Gospel should be preached to Gentiles — a question which was finally resolved at the Council of Jerusalem.
One of the crucial episodes in the expansion of the Church was the conversion of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, and his household. In this reading, Peter, convinced in a vision that nothing is profane, begins his explanation of the great plan of God for the Gentiles.
God, he says, is not one who accepts bribes from people or shows partiality. He is quite open to all men who fear God and do what is right.
The mission of Jesus is not exclusive to the Jews, for God sends his Good News of Peace to all mankind. Jesus stands in the long line of charismatic leaders of the Old Testament. At his baptism he is anointed with the Holy Spirit and, through
Fr Michael Barnes, SJ, who will write Scripture Notebook, has been a scripture teacher at Stonyhurst College, the Jesuit school, and an expert on Buddhism. He is going to Rome for further studies and will write to the Catholic Herald from Rome.
him, the agent of God's salvation, the news of peace and justice spreads throughout the world.
Mark 1 7-11: With thee I am well pleased
Unlike the parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke, Mark mentions that Jesus alone "saw the Heavens opened and the Spirit of God descending". Later on in the Gospel, at the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus has a similar experience, but this time the disciples who accompany him are included — the words are added: "Listen to Him", At the beginning of the Gospel, however, Jesus' true identity is kept secret from those around him; only gradually will they learn to discern who he is. Thus is introduced the key — and perhaps most puzzling — theme of Mark's Gospel.
Why is Jesus' true identity not proclaimed immediately? Why the insistence on secrecy? Perhaps an answer is to be found in Mark's description of the Baptism of Jesus. There is a clear allusion to the opening words of the first reading.
Jesus is addressed as the Son of God, the Servant, anointed with the Spirit of Prophecy, the perfect successor of God's faithful followers. Like the Servant of Isaiah he will proclaim justice but, at the same time, he will not condemn the weak and defenceless. lit other words, Jesus does not use force; he is a Messiah but a suffering Messiah.
Mark seems to be teaching that a true understanding of Jesus' Messiahship does not come through a direct revelation, or an intellectual intuition, but through a life of discipleship. If you follow Jesus faithfully, you will discover who he is. This is the only way the secret will be revealed.