WHOEVER THE SUFFERING SERVANT WAS—that mysterious figure whom Isaiah saw as destined somehow to save the world by suffering for it, and in terms of whom Jesus apparently saw himself—we know that his appearance was "marred beyond human semblance and his form beyond that of the sons of men" (Isaiah 52:14). "He had no comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him," Isaiah continues, and presumably that was a large part of why "he was despised and rejected by men" (Isaiah 53:2b-3a).

You think of the grossly overweight woman struggling to get through the turnstile at the county fair, the acne-scarred teenager at the high-school prom, the skeletal AIDS victim sitting on the New York sidewalk with a Styrofoam begging cup between his ankles. They too, like the Servant, are men and women "of sorrow and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3b).

Who knows to what extent their ugliness has led them too to be despised and rejected and to despise and reject themselves? Who knows whether their acquaintance with grief will open their hearts to the grieving of others or whether it will turn their hearts to stone? But for the sake of the one who bore it before they did, we are to honor them for the sanctity of their burden. For his sake, we are called to see their terrible beauty.

-Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words 

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