On this Wednesday of Holy Week, the first reading is the third of the four “Servant Songs” from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. According to our Christian tradition, they foretell
Jesus Christ and
his calling. As simple as that might sound, they are nonetheless mysterious,
fascinating and troubling. A Christian cannot read them without wondering how
they must shape her or his particular identity and vocation.
This third song celebrates the obedience of the Messiah. He has received “a well-trained tongue” and open ears to comply readily to the will of God. But his obedience will also entail abuse and suffering. His path will not be easy; he will find himself coming up on the rough side of the mountain. He will meet those who beat him, spit in his face and tear at his beard. Nevertheless, he will set his face like flint and not be ashamed.
Americans seem reluctant to speak of shame but there is much about it in both Testaments of the Bible.
Psychologists say that embarrassment relates to how I look or act; shame is about who I am. It may be felt as an intense burning desire not to exist, or an unconscious conviction that I have no right to exist. I should not be here; I should not take food, water, air or space for myself. Shame is a profoundly crippling spiritual-psychological inability to show oneself, or to take one’s place in a family or school or other social group. It is often one’s first response to painful or confusing situations.
A victim of violence or sexual abuse often feels this crippling shame. He has suffered an overwhelming and irresistible attack on his identity, sexuality, feelings, and body that left him feeling worthless. The assault may have been a single incident, but it was often a consistent pattern of abuse that lasted years or decades. The child grew up in a house of horrors and suffers lifelong PTSD.