Ancient prophet illuminates this holy week

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 7, 2004

"But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed."

With this quotation from the ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah, Mel Gibson opened his record-breaking film, The Passion of the Christ, six weeks ago.

Down through the ages, these stirring lines have been cherished by many who have seen in them a prediction of Jesus' redemptive suffering for sinful humanity.

George Frederick Handel, the 18th Century composer, included them in his Messiah in the choruses, "Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs" and "And With His Stripes We Are Healed." He also included two other pieces based on the same chapter from Isaiah: the air "He Was Despised" and the chorus "All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray."

Isaiah 53, together with the last three verses of the previous chapter, has come to be known as the song of the Suffering Servant.

Whereas Christianity has traditionally identified the Suffering Servant with Jesus, as interpreted in Gibson's film and Handel's oratorio, modern Judaism has tended to understand these words as referring, not to the Messiah, but to Israel itself as a suffering people in covenant relationship with God.

This interpretation was made vivid in Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winning film Schindler's List, and in Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock's great musical Fiddler on the Roof – and in its Academy Award-winning film interpretation by Norman Jewison.

And so, with the Jewish Passover and the Christian Holy Week upon us, I'd like to recall once more Isaiah's immortal words:

Who hath believed our report?
and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant,
and as a root out of a dry ground:
he hath no form nor comeliness;
and when we shall see him,
there is no beauty that we should desire him.
He is despised and rejected of men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:
and we hid as it were our faces from him;
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs,
and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken,
smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace was upon him;
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth:
he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,
so he openeth not his mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment:
and who shall declare his generation?
for he was cut off out of the land of the living:
for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
And he made his grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death;
because he had done no violence,
neither was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him;
he hath put him to grief:
when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin,
he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days,
and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied:
by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many;
for he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
because he hath poured out his soul unto death:
and he was numbered with the transgressors;
and he bare the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
—Isaiah 53, The Bible (KJV)

© 2004 Warren Harbeck

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