Apr 11, 2022: Monday of Holy Week

1st Reading – Isaiah 42:1-7

Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Our first reading is the first of four passages traditionally known as the Servant Songs of Isaiah (49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). They constitute a unique set of poems that identify a mysterious figure: the ideal Servant of God, the perfect Israelite, whose consecration to the divine will, even in the midst of terrible suffering, shall take away the sins of many (Isaiah 53:2).

This passage was written during the Babylonian exile (587-537 BC) to give the people hope in the midst of their suffering.

Thus says the LORD: Here is my servant whom I uphold,

Very few people were called “my servant” by God: Abraham (Genesis 26:24), Moses (Numbers 12:7), Caleb (Num 14:24), Job (Job 1:8), and, most frequently, David (2 Samuel 3:18). The servant referred to here is generally understood to be the nation of Israel.

There is special comfort for Israel in God referring to them as my servant; the exile was a terrible and troublesome time for the Israelites, causing them to question their whole understanding of their covenant relationship with God. God had promised that David’s kingdom would be secure forever, but now David’s kingdom was in ruins. Had the Israelites misunderstood their relationship with God? Were they, in fact, God’s chosen people?

my chosen one with whom I am pleased,

Isaiah responds to these questions with a resounding “yes.” Israel is God’s servant whom God upholds. The exiles’ suffering is not a sign that God has deserted them; rather, God has a purpose in their suffering.

This phrase is echoed at Jesus’ baptism, which we hear in today’s Gospel reading, and at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). The Servant Songs speak of a servant who suffers greatly. As such, they were not originally understood to be in reference to the hoped-for Messiah, because the Messiah was not expected to suffer. However, after Jesus suffered, died, and rose from the dead, the Servant Songs were used to probe the mystery of a suffering messiah.

The Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, without attempting to discover exactly who this servant was originally (or whom he was meant to stand for) interpreted the main features of the servant as being a prophecy about Jesus, in whom the Father is most pleased.

upon whom I have put my spirit;

Being endowed with God’s own spirit was even more significant than being called “my servant.” Israelite leaders who received God’s spirit, such as judges (Judges 6:34; 11:29,32; 14:19), kings (1 Samuel 16:13), and prophets (Micah 3:8; Ezekiel 11:5), were empowered by God to take action.

Receiving God’s spirit is necessary for any redemptive work.

he shall bring forth justice to the nations,

And this is the action the servant is empowered to take. The servant’s mission is to deliver justice, a commission normally reserved for kings, priests, and local magistrates.

Note that justice will be delivered not only to Israel, but to all nations. God created the whole world and desires to save all of it.

Not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, Until he establishes justice on the earth;

The modesty and quiet manner of the servant is quite extraordinary. His administration of justice is not harsh and exacting, and does not make a public pronouncement of God’s judgment. He will not compound the distress of an already suffering people, but will rather be a source of consolation.

the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

The servant now has another quality: he is a teacher. Teaching was a task never done by kings, but only by prophets (Isaiah 8:16; Zechariah 7:12) and priests (Jeremiah 2:8; Ezekiel 7:26).

In the Old Testament, “the coastlands” often refers to the pagan lands of the west. Again we see that this chosen one will serve not only Israel, but all peoples.

Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spreads out the earth with its crops, who gives breath to its people and spirit to those who walk on it:

The Lord, who revealed his power by creating the world, now announces a new stage in his plans for creation.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people,

God, now speaking directly to the servant, is emphasizing the deliberateness of his choice: I called you, I grasped you, I formed you, I set you.

The mission of the servant is clearly determined by God, not by the servant himself.

a light for the nations,

The universalism of the message is underscored. Through their suffering and subsequent salvation, the Israelites will bring other nations to a knowledge of God.

to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

This brings together the themes throughout the reading: the servant will bring forth justice and be a light to the nations, and here, this light will open the eyes of those relegated to darkness.

Specific instances of human suffering are listed, but they are probably intended to represent any form of darkness and confinement. The entire world will be rescued from every type of suffering.

Psalm 27: 1-3, 13-14

R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Tradition has handed down the two sections of Psalm 27 (v 1–6, v 7–14) as one psalm, though each part could be understood as complete in itself.

Asserting boundless hope that God will bring rescue (v 1–3), the psalmist longs for the presence of God in the temple and protection from all enemies (v 4–6). In the second section, there is a clear shift in tone (v 7–12); the climax of the poem comes with “I believe” (v 13).

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?

The psalm begins with the assertion, in the form of a soliloquy, emphasized in two questions, that the Lord is the psalmist’s salvation and refuge.

The words, “The Lord is my light…” can be read by Christians in connection with Jesus’ words, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh, my foes and my enemies themselves stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war be waged upon me, even then will I trust.

These verses suggest a king hard-pressed by his enemies; he regains his morale by remembering his God. But this can also be taken as a metaphor for a person who feels they are being persecuted to the point of death.

A third view is to apply these verses to the temptations one must bear in order to be faithful to God.

I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD in the land of the living.

The risen Christ gives full meaning to the phrase “the land of the living,” for it is in heaven that the true sanctuary of God is to be found, and heaven is where we can forever see the face of the Lord.

Wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.

The psalmist exhorts others to keep up their spirits in the midst of dangers and difficulties. Those that wait upon the Lord have reason to be of good courage.

Gospel – John 12:1-11

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.
Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.

We continue our journey in John’s gospel, picking up where we left off on Saturday. In today’s reading, Jesus pays another visit to his friends in Bethany; there, Mary anoints Jesus.

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.

It’s touching to see this friendship, at once divine and human, expressed in the form of frequent contact.

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

Jesus was anointed on two different occasions: first, at the start of his ministry, in Galilee, as recounted by Saint Luke (7:36-50); and second, toward the end of his life, in Bethany, reported here by Saint John but also by Matthew (26:6-13) and Saint Mark (14:3-9).

This anointing is a delicate expression of love, which Jesus will further interpret as an anticipation of the anointing of his body in burial.

Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said, “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.

From this passage and from John 13:29 we know that Judas was the person in the group in charge of the money.

Saint John goes out of his way to point out Judas’ hypocrisy. In his greed, he calculates the price of the oil, while Mary gives generously, without regard for the cost.

“Frequently the servants of Satan disguise themselves as servants of righteousness (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:14). Therefore, Judas hid his malice under a cloak of piety” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Saint John).

So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. 

In addition to praising Mary’s generous gesture, Jesus indirectly announces his death, even implying that it will happen so precipitously that there will hardly be time to prepare his body for burial in the normal way, according to Jewish custom.

You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Jesus is not saying that almsgiving is not a good thing (he often recommended it: Luke 11:41; 12:33); nor that people should not have concern for the poor (Matthew 25:40). Instead, Jesus is exposing the hypocrisy of people like Judas who deceitfully profess noble motives in order to avoid giving God the honor he is due.

Generosity in things to do with sacred worship is always praiseworthy, for it is a sign of our love for God.

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

The news of the raising of Lazarus has spread rapidly among the people of Judea and those traveling up to Jerusalem for the Passover.

And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too, because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.

The passage ends on an ominous note, with Saint John highlighting the indignation of the chief priests at the growing interest of the people in Jesus.

It is ironic that God allowed Lazarus to live by means of a miracle, and the Jewish authorities wish him to die by malice.

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