THE RIGHTEOUS ONE
Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24)
Analysis by Martin Lohrmann
4Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
10Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the Lord shall prosper. 11Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
DIAGNOSIS: Afflicted Because of Our Sin
Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): Making Amends
Justice means making amends: tit for tat, quid pro quo. If I hurt you, I need to make it up to you in a meaningful way. When something bad happens, we expect to receive fair compensation. But what happens when we cannot pay back our debts? We become trapped in a kind of debtors prison, always working off what we owe without ever managing to get back to even. On a practical level, this is the kind of endless struggle and pain that we experience when we live from paycheck to paycheck, wondering if we will ever be able to let down our guard and just be. Who can set us free from such daily debts and obligations?
Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): Moral Failings
If it is hard to pay back debts on a practical level, it can be even worse to know that we are trapped in endless cycles of moral failures and debts. Maybe we hurt someone in such a way that they will never forgive us. Maybe someone hurt us in ways that will leave lasting scars. How can we make these kinds of interpersonal or moral amends? Social sins like racism, slavery, and institutional injustice can also seem to loom over us as impossible obstacles to overcome. If justice means making amends, how can we atone for the terrible personal and social wrongs that follow us and keep us from living freely with ourselves and with others?
Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): Spiritual Bankruptcy & Social Despair
Sin has hurt us and those around us so much that it appears as if foreclosure is the only option. Our sins and debts can leave us feeling worthless and unlovable. Our society can appear to be beyond any hope or redemption. This was the dire situation that the people of Judah faced in the midst of their exile and captivity. They had been laid low by both their own failings and the violence of those around them. This is the situation we find ourselves in, when we consider how powerless we are to save ourselves and how lost we are as individuals and communities unable to live in anything like peace or righteousness. We all like sheep have gone astray, wandering our own lost and hopeless paths. Hopeless would be bad enough, but godforsaken might be more accurate.
PROGNOSIS: Afflicted Because of Love for Us
Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): He Has Borne Our Infirmities
The righteous one has entered our emptiness and despair. He sees our physical and spiritual debts and absolves us of them. In fact, he is so righteous that to make sure justice is satisfied, he himself will bear our punishments and pay our debts because he loves us so much. His righteousness even turns the terrible anguish that we deserve into blessed light and peace. The name of this righteous one is Jesus Christ, the bridegroom and liberator of our souls. As Luther wrote in The Freedom of a Christian, “By the wedding ring of faith he shares in the sins, death, and pains of hell which are his bride s. As a matter of fact, he makes them his own and acts as if they were his own and as if he himself had sinned; he suffered, died, and descended into hell that he might overcome them all… Thus the believing soul by means of the pledge of its faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with the eternal righteousness, life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom” (LW 31:352). This is the happy exchange. To use the words of the prophet, “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”
Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): By His Bruises We Are Healed
With our moral deficits wiped clean and our spiritual failings not counted against us by the mercy of God in Christ, we are set free and cleansed. What does a free and clean soul feel like? It is like being loved absolutely with no strings attached. It is being able to breathe deeply again and stand before the world in confidence. It is having the courage to know that we have nothing to fear. In this freedom of the soul, the hardships of the world will still approach us and oppress us, but we do not need to fear them. Knowing who we are in Christ, we can repent of the past ways we hurt others, both individually and socially. We can work with courage for the good of our neighbor, because we know that we ourselves already have all we need, namely, our Savior who sets us free. In this healing love of God, the world becomes a place of life again.
Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution): God s Righteousness Is God s Mercy
Having not deserved any of this, we are free to love others beyond their deserving. God s righteousness, it turns out, is not a quid pro quo kind of justice; rather, God s righteousness is the same thing as God s mercy. The holy righteousness of the cross gives a wisdom and justice that the world does not know. It is a justice which means loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute, and caring for neighbors in need. We love because he first loved us. Through this righteous one, the will of the Lord shall prosper.