Following Isaiah on the Passion: The Buffets of Our Lives

Like Christ, Isaiah and Paul, we must rely on God for the love to show His charity to all

Tintoretto, “The Beheading of St. Paul,” between 1550 and 1553
Tintoretto, “The Beheading of St. Paul,” between 1550 and 1553 (photo: Public Domain)

On Palm Sunday, Isaiah told Catholics that he “gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” The Church paired that story with Christ’s Passion. The result is two powerful readings about men who took some of the worst the world can deliver, and came out the other side closer to God.

Coming two days after I watched “Paul, Apostle of Christ” – an excellent and inspiring film – these readings were especially well-received. I was forced to consider how I a) fail to lovingly give my back to those who treat me badly, and b) respond with vitriol over minor transgressions.

One example of this is driving through rush hour traffic. How many people curse and beep at those who cut them off, and “teach them a lesson” by not letting people into their lane? This minor “buffet” against one’s ego, schedule, and/or safety is too often returned with uncharitable vitriol. Good people lose their cool over the smallest transgressions.

Compare this to Christ asking the Lord to forgive His murderers. Isaiah consciously left himself open to spitting in Sunday’s reading – an age-old sign of disrespect and derision. In “Paul, Apostle of Christ” the movie’s namesake joked with the captor who would eventually subject him to beheading.

The same is true for so many other interactions. A colleague is less-than-charitable; many of us come home and vent to our spouse. Do we really need to do that? Can we withhold gossiping vitriol against such (non)egregious offenses?

When I used to play Ultimate Frisbee, soccer players would be pushy and take over part of the field. I can’t count the number of times I barked at them for this. What a hero I was, yelling at them that we had marked our field long before they arrived. Christ and Paul had nothing on the attacks which I was under!

There are times when we must react with force against transgressors. The Catechism clearly describes these specific circumstances. Despite these distinct guidelines, many young men conflate necessary defense of life with egotistical “manliness” which Christ, Paul and Isaiah rejected. To quote a Star Wars book, “When blood must be shed, a Jedi does so quickly, surgically, with solemn reverence. With grief.” The same must be true of a follower of Christ. Regretfully, many young men – including myself in years past – imagine being a “hero” through bloody violence instead of moderated self-defense or peaceful non-violence.

In “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” Romans subject Christians to crucifixion, burning, and other forms of torture and murder. The small community of followers prays fervently about leaving Rome to spread the Word or staying to help the poor and persecuted. The struggles of these Christians are mirrored today in the Middle East.

Not every Christian’s trial is life-threatening. Watching YouTube may be a near occasion of sin for those addicted to pornography, and rush hour is temptation central for the quick-tempered. Like Christ, Isaiah and Paul, we must rely on God for the love to show His charity to all – no matter whether our challenge is a “First World Problem” or scourging, war and starvation.