Who is the suffering servant in Isa 53? According to Christian tradition, he is Jesus Christ. But today I would like to suggest a different perspective to read this text. First of all, let us pay attention to the characteristics of the suffering person. He or she does not have dignity and not attractive (v.2). He or she is not welcome and even despised (v.3). He or she endures suffering and pain because of us (v.4-5). He or she never complaints for what has been happened to him or her, but rather he or she is satisfied of our goodness (v.7 and 11). Who will be such a person in our society? I would unreservedly say that he or she is the old people in our society.
The old people are the suffering servants, not only because the wrinkles in their faces and their physical disability make them less attractive, but also because they are suffered a lot from getting old. Some may say that the suffering of the old people is simply because they do not have a saving plan or they do not take care of their health when they were young. But the Bible reminds us that ‘because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received.’ (v.4) In other words, because of the laborious work, we are brought up, and our society is prosperous. I just want to tell you that our parents have given up their interests and dreams for our sake. It is our responsibility to take care the old people in society.
The government report (January 2009) said that 16 out of each $100 government spending is for the elderly services, such as, social security, medical expenditure and elderly homes. This is not a small percentage, but in reality, the old people have different experiences. For instance, the old people are often refused to receive further medical treatment, simply because the hospital argues that it is better to reserve the resource for the young. Last year the government proposed to revise the policy of the so-called ‘money of the fruit’. It proposed to change the policy from a respect to the old people to a social security. The public transport in this year had intended to abolish the concession fare for the elderly. Even today there is concession fare to the old people, but it is applied to Wednesday and public holidays. All these suggest that the old people are considered as the burden of society, and they are the people needed to be pitied, not respected.
It is not my intention today to assess whether the public money spent on the elderly service is fair or not. We have to monitor the government, but we cannot depend on the government alone. We have to call all sectors of society to consider the needs of the old people seriously. Firstly, we may consider to start a campaign for concession fare to the elderly, not just Wednesday and public holiday. When corporate social responsibility becomes a common concern among the businesses, we can push them to think about the senior policy in their businesses. Secondly, the church can consider developing the elderly ministry. If there are a lot of elderly homes around us, shall we pay a regular visit to them?
To be honest, elderly ministry is seldom in high priority among the ministry of the church. Unlike the young people, the elderly are not able to create wealth. Contrarily, they are the people to receive more than to give. Besides, if the church does not have enough young people, how can the church have the resources to serve the elderly? This is true, but this also means that the need of the elderly is always subject to the full development of others. In other words, the old people are always the last concern.
Let me share with you a story. The first church I served in 1988 was a very very small church. Sunday attendants were around 30, and half of them were old people. The deacons always wanted to develop the church, that is, more young people. Due to the location, and the demography of the church, it was hard to develop in accordance with what they expected. Till now, the number of Sunday attendants is also around 30. Although I am no longer the pastor of this church, I have to ask what the meaning of its existence is. I do not mind whether any merging movement of the churches would be taken place. My concern is what the purpose of merging is. After a serious reflection, I come to a conclusion of that the existence of this church is for the elderly, because half of the members are old people. Many of them are singles and widowers. What the church can do is to support them in their daily life as well as to accompany with them till death. This is what our society is reluctant to do, for this is very costly. In a society characterized by the mentality of growth and development, people find difficulty to accompany. Development and accompany are not in contrast, but they are different. I think when the church is aware of that development is not necessarily the goal of the church, the pastor and the deacons would be more realistic and sensitive to the people who are in the church.
There is a Chinese motto, ‘the sunset is marvellous’. If this is something we believe in, we have to support and take care of the old people in order that the old people can really feel good at being old. The suffering servants have given us life, and now it is our time to bring respect and comfort to them.