Readings: Micah 2:1-5; Psalm 10; Matthew 12:14-21
In response to the Pharisees making plans to have him killed, Jesus withdraws and warns people not to make him known. It is a natural reaction - lie low, head for a quiet place, and try to keep your whereabouts secret. At least for the moment it is like that.
We are told that this was to fulfil what Isaiah wrote in the first of the Servant Songs, Isaiah 42. It is not immediately obvious how withdrawing and staying hidden fulfils what we find in that passage. It talks about 'beholding' someone who will 'proclaim' something to the Gentiles, which makes it seem that he becomes a public figure again. Unless the reference to the Gentiles is the point: if Jesus takes refuge there, in pagan territory, it might be a safer place for him, at least for now.
Or perhaps it is what follows in the passage from Isaiah that is being fulfilled in Jesus withdrawing and lying low. The Servant is meek and very gentle, the essence of what we would today call non-violence. In poetry of great tenderness Isaiah tells us that he will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break the bruised reed or quench the smouldering wick. What is vulnerable and fragile, what is weak and tentative, he will support and sustain. It is like a first movment in the Servant's work which, in its final and climactic movement, will bring justice to victory and give the Gentiles hope.
For the moment, then, the music of Jesus' life is gentle and quiet. But already sounding within it are the darker and louder chords of what will be revealed later, when he does return to engage directly with the forces gathered against him. It can seem that those forces are the ones that are really powerful and they do wreak havoc in people's lives. The first reading from Micah describes that havoc as Amos described it last week: the accumulated fruit of our small injustices and petty lies is a disaster because once it is accepted that justice and truth may be ignored or subverted, in no matter how trivial the way, true communion between people is no longer possible.
The great struggle of the Servant of the Lord, which unfolds in the later songs of the Servant in Isaiah 49, 50 and 52-53, shows us just how powerful is the gentleness and meekness of the Servant. The scriptures bring us back to this again and again: the forces that are truly powerful will seem at first too gentle and too meek for this world, too fragile and too vulnerable for those other powers that seem really effective, really to count for something in this world, the forces that really get things done: economic, military, political, and all forms of violence and coercion.
But it is the power dwelling in the heart of the Servant, the Spirit of God, that is truly powerful, powerful beyond the boundaries of this world, even beyond sin and death. For the moment these powers will often be quiet, gentle, invisible. Perhaps - we will be tempted to think - too quiet, too gentle, too invisible. But in the end, in the dramatic and climactic final movement of the drama, it is these powers - justice and truth, love and compassion - that rise victorious. Long after tyrants and bullies are dead, the courage and goodness of their victims stands and shines. In that strength, in that light, justice is proclaimed to all the nations as all are called to hope in the name of Jesus Christ.