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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 53:4–12

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (NRSV)

Pain and suffering are states of being most of us do not want to experience, and we often turn away from others who live with poverty, violence, disease, even failure. I’ve certainly on occasion said to myself, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Reading this passage from Isaiah, it’s hard to take in that “It pleased the Lord to bruise him” or that God’s will was to “crush” someone. I think of God as loving. However, suffering is an essential part of Jewish and Christian spiritual development, and coming to grips with suffering is part of God’s purpose—a building block in one’s faith. As Christians, we affirm this every time we say the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.”

A couple months ago, the lesson of the suffering servant was front-page news in the life and death of Senator John McCain. As a young man, his plane was shot down in the Korean War. He spent five years as a prisoner of war, subjected to unimaginable adversity: he was stabbed, beaten, and abused. But when offered the chance to come home early, McCain rejected it. How did he endure? Where was God when this soldier suffered? Somehow McCain faced his suffering with honor and integrity. And he faced his death from brain cancer the same way. Without calling undue attention to his plight, he demonstrated what his faith looked like and what acceptance of suffering meant to him.

God of mercy, be with us in our suffering. Help us to lean on one another, embracing the power of our humanity, living as followers of the One who suffered for us. Amen.

Written by Elise Magers, Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being

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