“Hear me, O islands, listen, O distant peoples. The LORD called me from birth, from my mother's womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me. ‘You are my servant,’ he said to me, ‘Israel, through whom I show my glory.’ Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God. For now the LORD has spoken who formed me as his servant from the womb, that Jacob may be brought back to him and Israel gathered to him; and I am made glorious in the sight of the LORD, and my God is now my strength! It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:1-6)
The second Suffering Servant Song comes to us in a different voice. Whereas yesterday’s reading featured God’s thoughts about the servant, today’s reading features the servant’s voice musing about God’s call. I mentioned yesterday that these songs were originally written about Israel. That is very clear in this reading as Israel is specifically cited as God’s servant. It is also helpful for us to remember that Israel was the name given to Jacob by God. “God said to him: Your name is Jacob. You will no longer be named Jacob, but Israel will be your name. So he was named Israel.” (Genesis 35:10) Jacob’s twelve sons became the tribes of Israel.
God chose or called a people. Israel was very conscious of the fact that God had chosen them as God’s own people. However, they forgot that God had chosen them to be a holy people. The word for holy in Hebrew means “set apart.” The people of Israel were set apart from the rest of the world and were supposed to be a witness of what God desired of humanity. When Israel allowed the influences of its neighbors to corrupt it, their call to holiness, their call to be God’s own was lost.
Each of us has also been called. Each of us, from the first moment of life in our mother’s womb, received a vocation, a call. When we speak of vocation, we usually think of priests, religious brothers, nuns, religious sisters, etc. Perhaps we are also aware of the fact that marriage is considered a vocation. So too is the single life. However, over and above all of these vocations, there is a fundamental vocation which belongs to all of us. Like the people of Israel, we are called to be holy.
Just as the Israelites were lured away from their vocation to holiness, many in our own society have also lost their way in the quest for holiness. We have allowed the loud voices of our society to influence our choices in life. Rather than keeping ourselves chaste, our society has embraced a lifestyle that sees sex as recreational. Rather than being obedient, our society teaches us that each of us may do as we please. Rather than using God’s created universe in a responsible way, our society has plundered the riches of creation for its own economic advancement. Rather than respecting life as God’s gift, we have seen society look upon life as another commodity that we can dispose of at will. Rather than remembering that we are all children of God, brothers and sisters in Jesus, we have learned ways to distinguish and discriminate those who are not like us.
In the final verse of the second Suffering Servant Song, we are reminded that our vocation or call to holiness was given to us in order to provide a light for all as they trod the path to God. If the world has lost its way, we have failed to provide that light. Consequently, we cannot claim innocence. Our responsibility is clear. We are called to be God’s holy people, a light for the nations, an example for all peoples of this world.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator