St Stephen Lewisham
Tuesday in Holy week
April 7th 1998
Isaiah 49: 1-8
John 13: 21-33, 36-38
All of us have had to face disappointment. Every day, perhaps several times a day for some of us, something doesn't turn out as we felt we had the right to expect; less often we experience a major let-down - someone, perhaps ourselves, in whom we had reposed so much hope and trust does something, or fails to do something which leaves our confidence in them and in our judgment shattered to pieces.
The readings today are about three disappointed people. The suffering servant described by the prophet Isaiah are hundreds of years before the time of Jesus; secondly Judas Iscariot, the man who handed Jesus over to his enemies, and thirdly Jesus himself.
Let's take Judas first. If one thing comes across clearly to me it's that he was a disappointed man. Something about Jesus evidently didn't fit in with Judas's preconceived ideas of what Jesus ought to be.
Some people have thought that he expected Jesus to be a great military Messiah leading his people into battle against the heathen foe; but Judas might just as likely have been an obsessive law-keeper like Saul of Tarsus, who was driven absolutely mad by the way Jesus was always apparently breaking the law.
We don't know. But what we do know is that "the iron entered into his soul" as they say, in a way which turned him into way Destroyer, first of Jesus and then of himself. If we learn nothing else from the example of Judas, let us understand that disappointment, wrongly handled, can turn us from human beings into destroyers (that's another name for devils) more quickly than anything else.
Think secondly of Isaiah Servant. Called by God, as we heard yesterday evening, to be a light to the Gentiles, to open blind eyes, and to bring people to freedom, we find him this evening a deeply disappointed man, his mission having apparently got no were. "Then I said I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength to no avail". Which of us in his darker moments has not felt like that?
But there is one vital difference between him and Judas. In the very next breath the Servant says "I am sure that my judgment is with the Lord and my work with God".
In other words his trust in God was such that he never lost faith in him who had called him. That is why, so far from allowing him to give up, God suggests that he raises his sights so to speak and instead of confining his mission to Israel, he should in this instance come to "see the whole world as his parish". It sounds odd, doesn't it, to suggest to someone who has failed at one thing that he should attempt something infinitely greater: but if we return to the third example of our Lord we find something very much like that is the case.
We don't know, we cannot know, how clearly our Lord in Holy Week could see how everything was going to turn out. But if, as we believe, he was "tested at all points like us yet without sin" as the Epistle to the Hebrews says, then his trials must have numbered disappointment among them. Yet like the Servant he ultimately rested his faith upon doing the will of his heavenly Father. Hebrews again has this wonderfully poignant passage to say about him:
"who in the days of his flesh when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; though he worry Son yet learnt he obedience by the things which he suffered".
There is no easy answer to disappointment; but one fact that we have to hold on to is that God Incarnate knew from first-hand experience what disappointment is like. But through that self-same disappointment came the perfection which Jesus seeks to share with us.
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