"The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them."
It is as if the prophet Isaiah was watching the 2005 movie- Passion of the Christ, in the 8th century B.C. A portrait of the Messiah was given to the people of God some seven hundred-plus years before the prophetic word was spoken and before the first drop of blood was drawn. In chapter 50 of his book, Isaiah weaves two very important themes together: Our Lord’s proclamation of the Gospel and his Passion. Indeed, with preaching, with bearing witness to Christ’s love and with leading souls to heaven, there must be a Passion; a price to be paid, if you will…even for his followers! As Pope Leo XIII said, “No man can hope for eternal reward unless he follow in the blood-stained footprints of his Savior.”
When Our Lady appeared to the children in Fatima in 1917, she did not ask them if they are certified catechists, or if they were well read in theology or even if they were actively engaged in ministry. All these things are good and even necessary, but they did not rank as the highest of priorities for the Mother of God. She simply asked Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco if they were willing to suffer for God. That was the crux! That’s all she wanted to know. Answering in the affirmative, they became useful instruments in the Hands of God. Indeed, great events were to follow all because they said “yes” to the Cross.
Here, in this passage from the book of Isaiah, not only is Christ’s mission is foretold but with it, the mission of the servants of God is wonderfully traced out. Like the three saintly seers at Fatima, this Servant of God knew that raising up the lowly and feeding those who hungered for eternal life came with a price tag:
The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue,
That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear;
And I have not rebelled, have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.
The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together.
Who disputes my right? Let him confront me.
See, the Lord GOD is my help; who will prove me wrong?”
For those of us who aspire to be servants of God and who want to usher in the kingdom of heaven, one thing is needed: a well-trained tongue; one that does not speak falsehood or words of retaliation; always keeping in mind that it is sin that we hate but never the sinner. Indeed, when all is said and done, we want to see even our worst enemy in heaven with us; that is, if we should persevere in holiness to the end.
To inspire and to rouse the soul to repentance and love of God, the tongue must be trained to speak to the essentials of salvation and avoid superfluous issues which may distract from that end.
Every Saint teaches us that sparing feelings is never to be preferred to saving souls. If correction or a word of admonition will rouse the soul to repentance, then the welfare of the soul must take precedence over a preference for a so-called peaceful coexistence.
Every morning it is important- not just to speak to the Lord in prayer -but to listen to his Word through spiritual reading or meditation. Through silence and attentiveness our ears are opened. No doubt, silence is the language of God.
Another way of listening to the Lord is to accept the circumstances of each day as his will. In fact, the Saints teach that this is the content of God’s daily revelation to us. Quite understandably, when the circumstances deprive us of something we desire or someone we love, then resignation to the Divine Will is a great hardship. But this hardship is the very thing our Lord referred to when he said pick up your Cross and follow me. As painful as it is, picking up this heavy Cross when adversity presses against us is purifying; indeed, just when we think we are being torn down we are also, in fact, being built-up.
Our love for God is being perfected precisely because it is no longer dependent on the gifts he gives to us. This is why St. Paul can say, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When we do not rebel or do not turn back then we can rest assure that God’s life-giving compensation is awaiting us, not only in heaven but in this life! Although is seems out of reach at the time, nevertheless, we will reap the fruits of perseverance on this side of eternity.
Christ, the Servant of God, will willing to give his back for lashing and his face to spitting. Pain and humiliation was his lot. When we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, as our spiritual worship, as St. Paul enjoins us to do, Jesus can take the training wheels off of our mission in life. He can therefore let us go and do his work in his name. But when we flinch, when we draw back because we foresee pain and humiliation, we should not expect much. The fruits from our labor will be few.
But with the spirit of sacrifice and humility, liberty and even a spirit of levity comes to the fore. Because we take seriously the salvation of souls while, at the same time, not taking ourselves too seriously, we can face our challenges and our opponents! With our Lord, we can say the following with confidence: “He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let him confront me.”
This passage from Isaiah is of prime importance today if we want to effectively plant the seed of the Gospel in our society. It is a portrait of, not only Christ, but of every servant of God. It is recipe for success and a sure road to heaven.
The potrait of Christ, the Servant of God in Isaiah 50, gives us the reason behind his heroic charity. It is a fact that in order for Jesus Christ to save socially ostracized people, he had to be willing to offend their critics. Two such social and disapproved of sinners were St. Mary Magdalene and Zachaeus. No doubt, the Good Shepherd knew that he himself would be slandered for having reached out to these two poor souls. Nevertheless, he did it anyways. And what enabled him to do so was his spirit of sacrifice and willingness to suffer.
Here is an excerpt from a previous Sky View post, In Every Sinner Awaits a St. Mary Magdalene:
"If Jesus winced at offending people- especially his religious peers who disapproved of having anything to do with her –Mary would have never become a Saint. St. Mary Magdalene or Zachaeus, the short man who climbed the tree to see Jesus, would have never benefited from his divine friendship if, in fact, he avoided the hatred of men at all cost. Unlike many of us today, Jesus ventured off of his religious turf and went out to seek sinners. To be sure, all sorts of sinners traveled many miles to see our Lord. But it can be also said that as the Good Shepherd, he went out looking for his lost sheep too.
Perhaps this is where we, as Catholics, have played it too safe. We wait for the Mary Magdalenes to come to our parish, our bible studies and out retreats. Perhaps this is why the twentieth century teachers, evangelists and pastors of the Faith did not enjoy the robust harvest the early Christians enjoyed.
St. Mary Magdalene challenges us to venture into uncharted waters; to get out of our comfort zones and to visit those places that may appear to be unseemly to our tastes."