A colleague of mine has focused on a line from collect for Sunday … illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth. It’s a powerful bit of prayer. I don’t know a Christian who wouldn’t agree with the first to bits of being so illumined: for Jesus to be known and worshiped. I rather suspect that many would just as soon ignore the obeyed bit, if for no other reason than we really don’t anybody telling us what to do.
However, as I read through Isaiah 49:1-7 there is an implicit piece of obedience, perhaps no so much. The servant’s response to God’s speech is I’ve wasted my time; I’ve done my best to no avail! God’s reply is:
It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.
At first reading God seems to be pilling on; so you haven’t done any good, okay, in addition to Jacob/Israel, now you are to tell the story of salvation to the ends of the earth. (And no matter how big one’s vision of earth may be, it’s big.) On the other hand, God expresses increased certainty that the divine plan will come to fruition as he speaks of a once despised Israel being respected and honored by rulers of the earth.
To some extent there is persistence message here; God wants the servant, either the prophet or Israel, to be persistent irrespective of what they perceive the results to be. On the other hand I see an element of obedience, precisely because the servant cannot correctly see the future, nor the effect of the work. That means doing the work anyway, and that means trusting God, which is at the very heart of any relationship.