Comics has given American pop culture thousands of them, everyone from Ant-Man to X-Men. DC Comics has created thousands more, including Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. Heroes.
The hero archetype is familiar. Unusual circumstances attend a hero’s birth. He or she grows up separated from a homeland and family. A crisis thrusts him or her forth on a quest for which this individual alone is uniquely qualified. Special help comes to our hero as circumstances arise and force him to prove himself time after time. The prospect of death looms large on his horizon and may overtake him. Eventually, he is reconciled with his family and rewarded for his valor. From Homer to Harry Potter, the hero’s story has changed little throughout history.
The unnamed servant in Isaiah matches the archetypal hero in many ways. In Isaiah 50, for example, the situation is dire. There we meet a people group who feels alienated and forsaken. They blame God for their misery, denying their own culpability. He who possesses all power and would have cared for them had come to them and called to them but was met only by silence. So, they suffer (vv. 1-3).
Then onto the scene appeared one with attentive ear and expert tongue (vv. 4-5a). That may not sound like much of a super power, but it is. Americans reportedly spend more than $55 billion every year on psychotherapy and medication. Many people simply are looking for someone to listen to them and say something helpful.
This mysterious figure in Isaiah 50 had disciplined himself to listen. Unlike his countrymen, he didn’t turn a deaf ear to God. Morning by morning he had heard and heeded that divine voice. Then from out of that deep well of accumulated wisdom, he was able to draw forth just the right words to sustain the weary. No one ever spoke as this man.
When he appeared, he accepted whatever came his way (vv. 5b-6). That same self- discipline he exercised to listen, he exercised in all areas of his life. He never drew a line and prayed, “This far but no further.” He never said to himself, “I’ll put up with a lot, but I’ll never let anyone do _____________ to me.” He gave his face to be spit upon, his beard to be plucked, and his back to be whipped. From no indignity did he shrink away. Yet he felt no disgrace. How can that be?
He trusted God for his help and vindication (vv. 7-8a). The court whose final verdict he respected wasn’t that of men but of God. Had he feared man and what others thought of him, he would have buckled. He would have been intimidated and swayed by their opposition. Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina once said, “When you challenge other people’s ideas of who or how you should be, they may try to diminish and disgrace you. It can happen in small ways in hidden places or in big ways on a world stage. You can spend a lifetime resenting the tests, angry about the slights and injustices. Or you can rise above it.” Rise above it the unnamed hero of Isaiah 50 did. He jutted out his chin and stood stone still in the onslaught of their opposition and aggression. He knew who supported him, who would fight for him, and who would take delight in him.
So he rested in God’s justice (vv. 8b-9). Those who accused and opposed him would come to naught—worn out and eaten away. Consumed by their own unrelenting hatred, like a fire that starves itself for lack of oxygen, they would meet their end in God’s own good time. God’s servant would be vindicated. So, too, will all who fear the Lord and obey the voice of His servant.
Today, on this Palm Sunday, we remember and celebrate the day that lone figure, that hero, came riding into town. He arrived on the back of a borrowed donkey, a sign of humility and peace. His name is Jesus.
Greg Hollifield is the assistant academic dean at Lancaster Bible College at Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies.