Monday, October 29, 2012

Celebrity Come Dancing & The Righteous Servant

Isaiah 53.4-12

This passage resonates so strongly with the experience of Jesus that, from the very beginning of the Church, Christians have identified the subject of the prophecy with him. Yet the Prophet identifies this person only as the righteous servant - perhaps the faithful remnant of God's people who had been taken into exile with all the unfaithful ones. 

One of the most striking things for me about Celebrity Come Dancing is the way that the dancers are punished for the mistakes of the celebrities. Indeed some of the dancers are harnessed over and over again, series after series, with people who have two left feet, or are seriously overweight or who just can’t dance. No matter how hard they work, and sometimes they work very hard to choreograph creative and entertaining routines and then dance until sweat pours off them, they are doomed to be condemned by the judges. The righteous share the fate of the unrighteous. And thus it ever was.

In ancient Babylon the righteous servants of God had shared the suffering of the other exiles, but in their case it was undeserved. Their punishment was a perversion of justice. People lumped them together with all the other sinners and assumed that they must have done something terribly wrong, but they had been wounded for the transgressions of the whole nation.
The suffering of the righteous will not be in vain, says the Prophet. God has not forgotten them and will honour them, especially for the way they have been willing to endure hardship with, and have prayed for, their fellow sufferers, even to the point of death. The Prophet says they will be allotted a portion with the great.

There can be little doubt that Jesus was inspired by this passage and modelled himself on the righteous servant. Luke tells us as much in the Emmaus story.

The passage reminds us that none of us can escape the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. We can never be immune from, or sheltered from, the calamities which befall the community around us.

This is true whether we're talking about the impact of the recession on the life of our church, or about what it feels like to be the church in a community where mines and factories have closed and people have been left behind while others were prospering.

Do we always remember to stand alongside and pray for those who are being hit hardest by unemployment and falling incomes? What practical things are we doing to support them and show our solidarity with them? And do they know that what we are doing, and our simply being alongside them, is meant to be incarnational - that it is our way of mirroring Jesus' own identification with struggling humanity?

I was at a conference this week where a vicar shared with us two recent encounters with his parishioners - one an elderly bus driver who had suddenly lost his wife and was feeling very alone, the other a single mother with six children, living on benefit but full of passionate love for her demanding brood. What does it mean, he asked, to be a righteous servant to these ordinary people?

How, without making them feel self-conscious or singled out, can we affirm people like these, encourage them, remind them that - in their daily struggles - they are loved by God and upheld in prayer by the church?

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