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.
Saint Paul wrote to his difficult Corinthian congregation: "We cause no one to stumble in anything, in order that no fault may be found with our ministry; on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance, in afflictions, hardships....
Another translation reads: "We avoid giving anyone offense so our ministry may not be harmed...."
I hear in these words Paul's imitation of Christ, who would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. On another occasion he says, "...we were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children."
The servant of God, imitating Jesus or any of the saints, cannot assume a domineering position without deep consideration. It is necessary on occasion, as the Holy Spirit dictates. We know that young people cannot appreciate the inevitable consequences of their behavior. Their brains have not matured and they need firm boundaries to guide them.
But their mentors must also be profoundly aware of the consequences of their discipline. Harsh, irrational or arbitrary teachers might not be forgiven for the sake of their good intentions. Their overbearing authority might be copied in the worse way as young adults assume control of their lives.
Clearly, Jesus preferred the standard of meekness. He was as ready as any Jew of his day to quarrel with his peers; quarreling was the national sport. But, among the powerful, he was a lamb led to the slaughter. We saw that meekness developing even as a child, when he was subject to his mother Mary and father Joseph. He makes no complaint as he is arrested and hauled before Annas, Caiphus, Herod and Pontius Pilate; nor when he is tormented by soldiers and taunted by the mob. He might have called up twelve legions of angels in his defense but that was not his Father's will, nor his own.
The simple fact is, no one is persuaded to love by dominance. They might be cowed into submission; they might be awed into silence; but they will rediscover their desires and find their voices and nothing good will have been accomplished in the meanwhile. Jesus has chosen the better part.
Today's first reading is the first of four "Suffering Servant Songs" from the Book of Isaiah. They lead us to Good Friday as surely as any text in the Old Testament. On that day we will see our king wearing a crown, hailed as a King of the Jews, and enthroned on a cross. He will call us with helpless, outstretched arms to embrace him as our beloved Lord. The outstretched arm has often been seen as a threat; we recognize it now as an invitation.
Nothing external will force us to go to him. In fact, his appearance will be repulsive to the busy passer-by, and terrifying to those who cannot see past appearances. The only compelling force will be the response of our hearts -- which is, in fact, the impulse of the Holy Spirit -- if we are prepared to listen to our hearts.