Good Friday, the Suffering Servant

Jesus’ death on the Cross was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). 

It was a “stumbling block to Jews” because it was not what they expected or wanted.  Our first reading from Isaiah today begins “See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.”  This is the fourth oracle prophesizing about a future servant of the Lord.

The Jews of Jesus’ day would have looked at this one line and, if they applied to the Messiah, would have seen it as speaking of a messiah who would reestablish the Kingdom of Israel, prospering as a king and exalted on his earthly throne.

I hope you noticed I said, “if they applied to the Messiah.”  If they looked at the rest of the passage, I don’t think they would have seen it the same way.  Why?  Because if they had, they would have understood that the messiah would suffer.  He was not to be a great earthly king.  As Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.  If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.

Jesus, obedient to the Father in his suffering and death on the Cross, does indeed prosper in saving souls.  He is indeed raised up and greatly exalted.

If one looks only at life in this world, then to see Jesus “so marred was his look beyond human semblance” would seem like a terrible defeat when in fact it is victory over sin.  To see Jesus crucified would show a man spurned and to be avoided. 

Jesus is a man of suffering.  Today many in our world say suffering must be eliminated at all costs.  There are people who suffer needlessly.  We must do what we can to end their suffering, not by ending their lives but by being present to them and making sure they have the basic necessities of life.  I’ve heard some people now go so far as to think poverty should be grounds for assisted suicide.  Where is the compassion in that? 

Jesus suffered for us.  He “was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins…We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way.”  Many people today think people must be allowed to follow their own way.  God gives us freedom.  Do we do good with our freedom?  Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.

When we go astray, we suffer.  Jesus dies to see us free from the suffering caused by sin.  Through his suffering, Jesus takes away our sins and wins pardons for our offenses.

When we suffer, we can hand it over to Jesus.  He knows what it is like to suffer.  As we read in our second reading from Hebrews, “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”  Jesus has returned to his “throne of grace” from which He came but He has not abandoned us.  Rather, “He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” 

Jesus did not run from suffering.  Jesus knew Judas was going to betray him.  Jesus could have chosen to go someplace where Judas won’t know where to find him.  Instead, Jesus went to a place where Judas knew He often met with his disciples. 

We should eliminate suffering like hunger, lack of clothing, and homelessness.  We should pray for an end to all suffering but we shouldn’t run from suffering.  We need to ask God what his will is.  How does God want us to face our sufferings?  He will never abandon us.

I don’t pretend to understand suffering.  I don’t have all the answers to end all suffering.  What I do know is that Jesus loves us.  When I look at Jesus on the Cross, do I see a man who suffered?  Of course I do.  But even more than suffering, when I look at Jesus on the Cross, I see a man who loves me more than anything.  He loves you in the same way.


Fr. Jeff

Leave a Comment