Isaiah has the audacity to imagine someone wholly alert to the divine call and dialogue – and he speaks as if he himself is that person: “The Lord has given me a disciple’s tongue.” Why? Immediately Isaiah portrays himself as a messenger to all humanity in its weariness. That is why anyone single person is brought into partnership with God in the divine dialogue – so that the dialogue can go out to embrace the whole of humanity – in the royal progression from one person, to a group and then to all. This is the only human way, human because it preserves our identity as human, it expresses our nature and preserves our freedom to say Yes or No. God can only speak to us in human voices and eventually in one human voice. Isaiah paints lovely intimate images: “Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple.” And: “The Lord has opened my ear.” Magic! Then Isaiah turns immediately to the consequences of one who listens to God, who is a disciple, who “speaks” out of the dialogue with God. They will suffer. But also he is convinced: “The Lord comes to my help….I shall not be shamed.”
Paul now reveals how his contemplative entry into the meaning of the life and death of Christ enables him to have the greatest clarity about that meaning. This is one of the greatest hymns in the New Testament. Isaiah imagines a disciple whose dedicated listening to God and then “disciple’s tongue” as he brings God’s heart to others (the weary) spells suffering inevitably. Paul is able, after his experience of the risen Christ, to merge the divine and human partners in the dialogue into the one person of Christ. He then masterfully and with the greatest economy of words delineates the consequences and effects: “His state was divine, yet Christ Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave.” Isaiah has us contemplate the delicate interplay between God and a listening, then speaking, then suffering servant or disciple. Paul has the audacity, impossible before his or anyone’s experience of the man Jesus and his death and risen life, to place over one another the templates of God and the Man Jesus – to merge and overlay both God and Man in one. The man Jesus is at once the Divine Lord and the listening, obedient and suffering disciple or slave. The divine-human dialogue has reached its illogical but inevitable conclusion. The result of his accepting death as a slave is that, blessed paradox: “God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names…so that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” This revelation given to Paul is one of the greatest expressions of the human mind seeking to express plumbless mystery.
Then we come to Mark’s account of the passion of Jesus. From the anointing with costly ointment; the plan to betray him by Judas; the last meal with the bread and wine of his body to be broken in death; the agony in the garden; his arrest and trial; the denial by Peter; his appearance before Pilate; the mistreatment by the guards; his crucifixion and death and burial. There are innumerable touches in this simple and restrained account which point to the deeply human and almost mundane nature of the surface story – it does not offer any so-called deep theological or spiritual interpretation. Its genius and hence the deepest theology is to stay on the level of a personal drama with simple characters with just enough political and social background to set that scene. The horror of torture and death by crucifixion is underplayed. Here is a cross section of (“wearied” – Isaiah) humanity caught up in all their frailty, men and women, in a messy and brutal execution which brings out the best and the worse in them all. We are left with two women: “Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of Joset were watching and took note of where he was laid.” Only a small hint that the story is not yet over.
So also our lives and deaths – humdrum, normal, unremarkable, bringing us to partial heroism and partial cowardice – but as Isaiah and Paul have divined this very human humanity is shot through with divine significance and meaning – we are caught up into the divine dialogue which will make us partners and co-equals with God – slaves even unto death but thereby given names which are above all other – sons and daughters of God. Thus is Jesus incarnated in all humanity and so takes us into the Christ of the transformed resurrection.