Suffering Servants

A crown of glory begins as a crown of thorns.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief… [But] He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied…” Isaiah 53:10-11

The Book of Isaiah speaks of a “suffering servant.” Prophetically rearranged, the words become names: יֵשׁוּעַ, xristo/j, and Jesus. Imaginatively rendered, say in Russian, it’s Софья Семёновна Мармеладова. You may know her as Crime & Punishment’s Sonya. She suffered and served, and suffered in her serving: urging another’s confession, and partaking in their penance.

Where I live, “suffering servant,” can be rearranged to spell Maria Bulk or Fr. Babu Matthew. Its image is recast in the young woman who loves Vancouver’s down-and-outs by living with them. It’s a Catholic priest who endures loneliness so that others can enjoy his undivided attention.

A suffering servant reminds us that a crown of glory begins as one of thorns. The yoke is easy, and the burden is light, but to borrow a line from Shakespeare, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” It is heavy with responsibility and care. Are we willing to take the coronation oath? To answer, “We will,” when Jesus asks, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

St. Paul writes, “Provided we suffer with Him… we may also be glorified with Him.” The command, however, isn’t to suffer, but to love. Suffering isn’t the means, it’s the byproduct. Love entails it just as exercise does sweat. And we know this to be true even in our lesser loves and longings: for things like good grades, personal appearance, and professional advancement. We’re willing to endure the loss of time, energy, repose and resources for all sorts of things. And everything from the bags under our eyes to the awards on our walls attests to it.

If we love God above ourselves, and our neighbors as ourselves, the scars of love will soon show. Love will beget suffering. Our schedules and budgets will bear, like saints, the stigmata of Christ. Or, quite possibly, we’ll place a ‘glass ceiling’ over our sanctity. But we could be saints, God willing, if we wanted.

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