I’ve always had this fantasy of being invisible. Maybe it stems from watching Star Trek - I always loved the great Klingon weapon of war: the cloaking device. I remember wishing that I had a cloaking device. I wished that I could hide in plain sight and that no one would even notice that I was there.
The reality is that there are people in our world that effectively have a cloaking device on their lives. There are people that get walked by every day and no one seems to notice. I’m thinking about DJ, a young man that lives on the streets of Asheville. He has been in and out of the county jail because there is no room in a hospital detox ward. His 8x8 cell serves as a detox chamber as his body writhes from the heroin that it is craving. Meanwhile his girlfriend and daughter are trying to get enough food to eat and a bed to sleep in while they wait the forty days until his release.
I’m thinking of a single mother from Mexico, who is an undocumented worker here in the United States. She came here with her husband, whom she left because of the danger he posed to her and her children. Because she here without papers, her employers constantly take advantage of her. She works seven days a week, with almost no days off whatsoever. She is underpaid and not given credit for the ample amount of overtime she puts in. She is trying her hardest to provide for her children, but is up against obstacle after obstacle. You’ve probably never noticed her because she feels she has to “fly under the radar” or risk being caught by those that deport her and potentially separate her from her children.
I’m thinking about a young man who recently gave this country’s continued race problem a name and a face when he was gunned down by a person doing the neighborhood watch program. While all the details are unclear at this point, it seems that he was walking home in an exclusive neighborhood in which his family lived. According to some reports, he was shot because he looked like he might be a threat or up to no good. The fact that we know his name and have seen his face on the news are the exception rather than the rule for this ongoing struggle in our nation’s identity.
These are the people that this passage is about. Sure, it is a prophecy that points to the sacrificial death of Jesus, but it is about them as well. It is about those that suffer in silence and obscurity while the rest of us don’t even pay attention. It is about those who, like the scapegoat in Jewish thought, bear the sin of society on their shoulders. They are the ones who suffer so that the rest of us don’t have to. They are some of the victims of a society that would rather sweep them under the rug than reach out and “love our neighbor as ourself.”
In Isaiah, the servant doesn’t fight back, but enters into this suffering, injustice, and exploitation with a refusal to fight violence with violence. Instead, the servant fights with an expected weapon: vulnerability. Walter Brueggemann describes the scene in this way:
This is a life given for the life of others - no satisfaction of anger, no victory over the power of death, but only a gentle surrogate in punishment. It is as though the vicious cycles must be broken. but they cannot be broken by force, by power, by assertion, for such vigorous assertion only escalates and evokes more from the other side. The servant, this nobody with no resources, breaks the cycles of death and hurt precisely by a life of vulnerability, goes into the violence, and ends its tyranny.
Maybe part of our task this Lent is to acknowledge our complicity in the exploitation and violence done against these invisible servants. Now, while I don’t necessarily mean physical violence in every case, it is true that violence is being done in each of these situations. Biblical scholar Raymond Brown has defined violence as “whatever violates another, in the sense of infringing upon or disregarding or abusing or denying that other, whether physical harm is involved or not, can be understood as an act of violence. The basic definition of violence would then become violation of personhood.” From this definition, we can at least acknowledge that we have allowed violence to occur. And for that, we repent. We have allowed people to be invisible. And for that, we repent. We have been blind to their need and deaf to their cries. And for that, we repent. We have profited from their exploitation. And for that, we repent.
Let us open our eyes and look for the suffering servants in our midst. Let us look for the new life that God can bring through their sacrifice. Let us reach out and love our neighbor as we love ourself.
Prayer: God, open my eyes to the victims of this world’s violence. Help me to see, hear, smell, and touch the servants all around me. They are a picture of Christ, a picture of you. Use them to teach me and make me more like you. Amen.