Second Isaiah, that is, chapters 42 to 53, focuses on the end of the Babylonian Exile for the Israelites. Indeed, Isaiah is announcing a message of hope, a message that the Israelites must now prepare for their new exodus out of Babylon and their return to Israel, to Zion.
Those chapters also include what are called the four Servant Songs. The Servant is God’s agent to do God’s work in the world. In today’s first reading, we hear the second Servant Song. The Servant is “to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the remnant of Israel, those who have been in exile.
Oddly, this second Servant Song has always reminded me of lighthouses. The connection comes when God says to the Servant: “I will also give you for a light to the nations, that you may be my salvation to the end of the earth.” The temptation is to read it: “I will also give you for a lighthouse to the nations.” And why not? This Servant is to be like a lighthouse of hope to a world in darkness.
And just who is this mysterious Servant? His identity has been a point of debate for ages. In verse 3, for instance, the Servant is referred to as Israel. Yet, in verse 6, the Servant is an individual. Could the Servant have been a prophet of that time? Perhaps all Israel, or maybe even each Israelite, individually? Could it be pointing to the promised Messiah?
The Church since its beginning has seen Jesus as the fulfillment of the Servant. He is the Messiah, the Christ. It is Jesus who has reached “the ends of the earth.”
And most especially during this holiest of weeks in the Church’s liturgical calendar — Holy Week — this promise, this Song of the Servant proclaims to us our hope, just as it did for the Israelites in exile.
Our own exile, our Lenten wilderness will soon end. We are to prepare for our exodus out of Babylon, out of the wilderness, to prepare for our return to Zion, to new life of resurrection.
This will be the time when, in a real sense, we will know who the Servant is — it is the risen Christ — and more. We will discover too that in some mysterious and incarnational way, we, too, the Body of Christ, are that Servant. We are called to be “a light to the nations.”
When will this happen? It will happen during the Easter Vigil when we as the people of God enter a darkened church, as in a darkened world. The deacon will proclaim “Lumen Christi!” Light of Christ, the resurrection version of the Second Servant Song, as we each receive a lighted candle to illumine the darkness.
We will renew our baptismal vows, and, in doing so, we will proclaim our true identity as Servant. We are created in the image and likeness of God. In our baptism we become sons and daughters of God. That is our identity, an identity as unique as our DNA, as unique as our fingerprint, as unique our soul. With that light of Christ, we are to illumine a dark world.
Remember the lighthouse? In times past, lighthouses used fire and mirrors to illumine the darkness for mariners. Today, it’s quite different. No longer fire, but powerful beams of light flashing in the night. Each lighthouse has its own distinctive pattern of flashes, a coded light-message, which signals its identity and its specific location. This allows ships to identify their location at night and to navigate safely away from rocks and shallow waters. Through those distinctive coded flashes, each lighthouse guides them to safety, saying over and over: “This is who I am.”
Just so, each of us is called to be a lighthouse to a dark sea where people are searching for safe harbor, for the God of love.
In our own distinct and unique way, we are to flash our beam of light with the message of the Servant Song: “This is who I am. This is who I am. This is who I am.”
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.