Some of you may know that in a former life, I underwent a significant amount of training for a career in music. This was a rich period of my life. The rigors of my training enriched my understanding of something that had—from the farthest recesses of my memory—called out to the deepest parts of my being. I met people who would become life-long friends. The experience opened my mind to a host of perspectives I had never encountered. And the lessons in discipline, patience, and delayed gratification have served my life in vocation in ways I never imagined possible.
That said, as I moved about the social groups that made up my colleagues in the field of music, I quickly became aware of some ways of being that would eventually drive me away from my ambitions to the higher echelons of professional music. There were pressures of all kinds that I found began to stifle and suffocate my humanity—the pressure for perfection, for self-promotion, and for recognition and esteem in the eyes of both my peers and my audience.
All of these temptations robbed me of the life that music had originally spoken into my soul. The feeling of utter worthlessness I could experience after a harsh criticism or poor performance made me question quite frequently the path in life I had chosen. At times, it was impossible for me to celebrate the accomplishments of my peers—for all I could discern in them was the feeling that none of my hard work would ever get me playing like so-and-so.
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Cor. 12:12-31a
“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” So ends the first part of the story of Jesus’ preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth. He has just come from forty days in the wilderness, driven there by the Spirit after his baptism. But, “filled with the Holy Spirit,”as Luke tells it, things then take a strange turn: for no reason apparent in the text he begins to provoke the hometown crowd, saying that they’re going to reject him: “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town,” he says, and other impertinent things. He makes a narrow escape from being thrown off a cliff for his insolence. But, today we have the nice part of the story.
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me…”The gracious words that came from his mouth were Isaiah’s gracious words, from a passage sometimes grouped with the so-called “Servant Songs”. One of the best known of these we hear in Holy Week: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” [Is. 53:5] The Servant Songs in Isaiah helped shape the early church’s understanding of Jesus—and very well could have helped shape Jesus’ understanding of himself. And if these prophetic songs help us understand Jesus, they help us understand ourselves. The church is the servant of God; each of us is servant of God. He came not to be served, but to serve [Mark 10:45]—as do we.