Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
(The first Servant Song – Isaiah 42:1-4)
Here’s how one person responded to the reading:
Identify a word or phrase that catches your attention…
• My servant…
• I have put my spirit upon him…
• and the coastlands wait for his teaching….
How does this passage touch your life today?
• That I may become open to the Holy Spirit….
What does God want me to do or be? Is God inviting me to change in any way?
• In becoming open to the Holy Spirit, that I may work at being non-judgmental of others…
• That I may have a better understanding of myself, and try not to be hypocritical…
• Take the plank (the shadow) out of my eye, in order to clearly see the splinter in my brother’s eye…
• That I may be open to help others who are in need…
Here’s how the group responded to the reading:
• We are overwhelmed by the constant news of the darkness in our world today. The whole world, and our own nation, is crying out for justice.
• And how do we work for justice? Almost always we humans (and especially our nations) turn to the use of force. But Jesus was profoundly influenced by the passage above and by Isaiah’s other Servant Songs, and he understood power in a different way.
• Note that Isaiah 42 not only describes what the Servant is called to do – bring forth justice to the nations – but how the Servant will do that: a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.
• The Servant will not rely on force, but will turn to another kind of power – the spiritual power of compassion and servant love.
We too, are called to be servants…. but first we need to look at our shadow.
The personal response (above) mentions the shadow – the plank – in the eye. Here’s what Rohr says about the shadow:
The actor with a plank in his eye (chapter 4, p. 75-77)
Jesus called the ego the ‘actor’ (which the New Testament translates as ‘hypocrite’). The human ego always needs to be important, so it tries to eliminate the negative wherever it finds it – in itself, as well as in other people. Modern psychology has given a name to the negative – the shadow – that part of us that the ego doesn’t want to see (and certainly doesn’t want others to see). The shadow itself is not evil, but it allows us to do evil without recognizing it as evil.
Most religions have seen the shadow as the problem, and have developed rules to govern and even eliminate negative actions and attitudes. But the shadow is only the symptom; Jesus and the prophets deal with the cause – our over-defended ego always sees and hates its own faults in other people and thus avoids its own transformation.
Jesus’ phrase for the denied shadow is “the plank in your own eye”:
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the plank is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:3f)
Jesus knows that our attempts to repress the shadow never lead us into personal transformation, empathy, compassion, or patience with others – but into denial or disguise, repression or hypocrisy. And so he addresses the cause of evil, and not its symptoms. He clearly sees pride, self-sufficiency and its resultant hypocrisy as our primary moral problems (see Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount).
All the human darkness of this world emerges from the shadows within each of us:
Refusing to see the plank in our own eye… which prevents us from seeing the world (and ourselves, and our motivations) clearly…
Working to get our own way, usually by “lifting our voices” (Isaiah 42:2, above) and, if a strong voice doesn’t get the results we want, moving on to manipulation and finally to force…
So how can we bring forth justice to the nations?
Each of us must begin with personal experience – opening ourselves to the Spirit and hearing the call to work for justice. (Think of Jesus’ experience at his own baptism).
We must respond to the Spirit through hard inner work – recognizing and then wrestling with the shadow side of ourselves. (Think of Jesus’ own temptations in the desert).
Then, through prayerful study of Jesus’ actions and teachings, we may come to a new understanding of God’s power – Jesus’ power was not force, but compassionate, servant love. (Think of Jesus’ constant emphasis on servant ministry – Mark 8:31f. 9:33f; 10:35f; John 13:34f).
Only when we are ready to be Jesus’ kind of servant – only when we’re ready to use compassionate, servant love instead of force or manipulation – will we be able to work effectively for justice.