Reconciliation Lectionary: Isaiah 53:1-12

mary-the-penitent.jpgWhat a powerful and wrenching option for the Rite of Penance. It certainly keeps our thoughts on the suffering, yet merciful Christ. This reading is proclaimed every Good Friday. I remember a student lector from my days at Michigan State’s campus ministry who was nearly in tears as she read this. Was I witnessing a breakdown, I worried, or just a deeply emotional moment? It is hard to remain aloof when confronted with the fourth passage of the suffering servant:

Who would believe what we have heard?
To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up like a sapling before him,
like a shoot from the parched earth;
He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye,
no beauty to draw us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by (others),
a man of suffering, knowing pain,
Like one from whom you turn your face,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

I suspect this passage is what drew those who assembled the lectinoary for the Rite of Penance, a very traditional expression of atonement:

Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.
We thought of him as stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted,
But he was pierced for our sins,
crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
all following our own way;
But the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.

One shorter option in the Rite is to use just these three verses above. These call to mind the canticle in 1 Peter.

Though harshly treated, he submitted
and did not open his mouth;
Like a lamb led to slaughter
or a sheep silent before shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
Seized and condemned, he was taken away.
Who would have thought any more of his destiny?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
struck for the sins of his people.
He was given a grave among the wicked,
a burial place with evildoers,
Though he had done no wrong,
nor was deceit found in his mouth.
But it was the LORD’s will to crush him with pain.
By making his life as a reparation offering,
he shall see his offspring, shall lengthen his days,
and the LORD’s will shall be accomplished through him.
Because of his anguish he shall see the light;
because of his knowledge he shall be content;
My servant, the just one, shall justify the many,
their iniquity he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the many,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
Because he surrendered himself to death,
was counted among the transgressors,
Bore the sins of many,
and interceded for the transgressors.

When would this passage be used? My own sense would be to save it for Good Friday. Perhaps if a parish were celebrating communal penance during Holy Week, Isaiah 53 would be a possibility, or the shorter section of verses 4 through 6 only.

I don’t know about you, but I find the theology of atonement difficult. I think it may be lost on many Christians today. It doesn’t seem to be fair, even if we human beings are getting the good end of the deal.

But Jesus willingly gave himself up on our behalf. Holy Week and the Sacrament of Penance confront us with that reality of God’s love. We can’t get away from it.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Rite of Penance, Scripture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Reconciliation Lectionary: Isaiah 53:1-12

  1. Atheist Max says:

    “Like a lamb to slaughter” – Isaiah

    Was Jesus murdered? If so it was not a sacrifice.
    Was Jesus a sacrifice? Then he wasn’t murdered by humanity.

    God required (Leviticus 17:11) blood be drained from an animal. For some reason this makes sense to modern people.
    But why? Where is the beauty in a literal pool of red blood cells? Why must every drop leave Jesus’ body? Why delay salvation to millions of people until the blood of one in particular has hit the ground? Millions of people lose blood every day in hospitals and in accidents around the world and that blood loss helps nobody.

    When I was a Christian I pondered the Resurrection. As an Atheist I’m puzzled by what is so great (or good) about a God’s need for blood spillage. To refuse to grant salvation to little children until his own son is murdered seems worse than cruel.

    How did I ever believe in it? No need to reply. Just can’t get past EASTER without all these questions.

  2. Liam says:


    A tour through this summary can be helpful for background (of course it doesn’t reflect the past century of theological study, but still….):

  3. Atheist Max says:

    “Fallen man, it was said, was justly under the dominion of the devil, in punishment for sin. But when Satan brought suffering and death on the sinless Saviour, he abused his power and exceeded his right, so that he was now justly deprived of his dominion over the captives. This explanation is found especially in the sermons of St. Leo and the “Morals” of St. Gregory the Great. Closely allied to this explanation is the singular “mouse-trap” metaphor of St. Augustine. In this daring figure of speech, the Cross is regarded as the trap in which the bait is set and the enemy is caught. “The Redeemer came and the deceiver was overcome. What did our Redeemer do to our Captor? In payment for us He set the trap, His Cross, with His blood for bait. He [Satan] could indeed shed that blood; but he deserved not to drink it. By shedding the blood of One who was not his debtor, he was forced to release his debtors”

    I don’t deny the extraordinary imagination it took to come up with theories like this one. But – What is true about all this? Where is Satan? I’ve never seen him either. Why does it sound so contrived? “God set the trap”? “Blood for bait”? A deceptive God outwits Satan the deceiver with a trick of his own? And a real man had to die on a cross for this? Yet, in later centuries millions of much less significant men will die defending or pushing the claim itself. To what end?

    I don’t know whether the Easter stories are true or not. But they are not believable. And it seems entirely harmless to shrug them off as fanciful notions from a time long ago. If a real God cared, it seems he ought to make a more convincing argument – something which doesn’t look so made up and constructed as a Harry Potter story.

    We live in such a marvelous, achingly beautiful world. The Easter theory offers blood spilling and atonements and unlikely promises of ‘better’ things. Yet, what could be better than this wonderful world? I don’t criticize believers. I was a believer for decades. I wish someone would tell me exactly what was the literal ingredient in Jesus’ blood which made it so super special in God’s eyes – for spilling.

  4. Dick Martin says:

    And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins; If Born Again……
    in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,
    among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by ( nature ) children of wrath, just as the others. To show Man Through out History Man’s inability to save himself,
    God dealt with Man through Innocence. = Fall; Tree of Life in garden -thrown out Conscience- Noah only righteous ended with Flood. Human Government -Ended confusing language- Tower of Babel Promise- Abraham- Ended in exile Law- Moses – no one could keep the Law. Ended – Jesus fulfilled. Grace- Jesus. PAUL’S Revelation Churches are making a eternal mistake today. When you mix the Law and Grace.
    God was dealing with Man to show ;He could not save himself. Jesus was willing to come and become our perfect Sacrifice. He shed His Blood for all sin ever committed. He was our Substitute . Without his taking your place you won’t make it. He exchanged His Righteousness for our Sin.
    2 Corinthians 5:20-21
    Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.
    For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Ask Him to be you’re payment for your sin’s and He will. It’s already Done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s