As his public ministry to the people grew in strength, so too was the opposition to Jesus and his work. In the forefront of the opposition were the Pharisees and the scribes.
The scribes were those learned in the interpretation of the Jewish law; the Pharisees prided themselves on fulfilling the Law’s every little detail. Jesus antagonized both groups by placing the Law second to mercy and compassion.
Today’s Gospel reading is Matthew’s answer to the hostile Jewish establishment. The evangelist takes a page out of the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 42, and shows how Jesus is truly God’s servant by his continual practice of forgiveness and healing.
He will not snap off the broken reed, nor snuff out the smouldering wick.
Chapter 42 in the book of Isaiah contains four “songs of the Servant of God”. The prophet Isaiah often speaks ofIsraelas the ‘servant of God’, chosen, set apart and saved in order to be God’s witness to the nations of the world. But in the latter part of the prophecies of Isaiah there are four passages, the “songs of the Servant”, which indicate that this mysterious servant of God is not the nation at large, but an individual who will fulfill all that God wants for his people.
The early apostolic community, enlightened by the Spirit at Pentecost, saw clearly that this individual was none other than Jesus. Jesus is the true “servant” of Yahweh, chosen by his Father, beloved of him, and given the mission to save humankind by his suffering and death.
Matthew’s insertion of this page from Isaiah into his Gospel says without hesitation who Jesus really was :
My beloved, on whom my favour rests.
I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim judgment to the nations.
The Pharisees were upset because Jesus never declared who he was publicly. They sarcastically attributed his cures to the devil himself. But in this passage taken from the first song of the Servant, we can see clearly the course which Jesus set for himself –
to bring about a reconciliation between human beings, between human beings and God, and to restore all creation to God his Father.