Jesus' suffering was for our good

  • March 19, 2010
Passion Sunday (Year C) March 28 (Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56)

The professional martyr or victim is a character known to us all. This individual drinks deeply from the cup of self-pity and victimhood and firmly believes that their “persecution” is because they are right and others wrong. They are standing up for what is right while others operate out of self-interest or corruption. But more often than not, they are suffering for their own opinions, prejudices and behaviour that is aggressive and intolerant.

Our own age is awash in such self-appointed prophets — so how do we recognize the genuine article? We might turn to the passage from Isaiah, for the Suffering Servant — with emphasis on “servant” — is the model for all who speak on God’s behalf. First of all, the servant is willing to set aside ego and personal opinions. This enables the servant to actually listen to the voice of God — often confused with one’s personal opinions and convictions. In fact, the message that the servant receives is often personally shocking or challenging. And the typical way it is expressed is through words of hope and encouragement — sustaining the weary with a word. The inner awareness of being guided and taught from a divine source becomes a great source of strength needed to face the opposition and resistance that will certainly come.

Two things are to be avoided at all costs. The first is cowardice and weakness in the face of resistance that cause one to give up. The second is arrogant self-righteousness that can lead one to lash out, strike back and in effect surrender to the world’s way of doing things. The true suffering servant is one who suffers for the right reasons — and the needs of ego are not one of them.

Many believe that humility and freedom from ego is a sign of weakness and an invitation for domination and oppression. But the life of Jesus demonstrated just the opposite: letting go of status, privilege, security and power is not only liberating but spiritually empowering. Not clinging to even His divine status Jesus took on human form — even the form of a slave — and took the path that would eventually lead to death on the cross. But it was this abandonment to the will of God and unwavering commitment to the good of others that was the instrument of His exaltation. And so it is with us: often it is fear of vulnerability and loss that prevents us from radical discipleship and service to others. But elsewhere in the New Testament we are told that perfect love casts out fear.

All of this is clearly evident in the passion of Jesus. But we may ask: Why did Jesus suffer and why do we commemorate this passion each year? His passion and crucifixion was not the object of His mission nor is suffering good in itself. Suffering should not be glamourized or spiritualized — this can too easily lead to insensitivity to oppression and injustice. The mission of Jesus was to bear witness to the ways of God — love, justice and unity — in an uncompromising and unwavering fashion. He was to challenge human judgments, traditions, prejudices and fears in the hope of breaking through and liberating the minds and hearts of those whom He encountered. Even at the last supper and beyond He will have to do with typical human weaknesses in those around Him: jockeying for power and recognition, betrayal, violent actions and words, as well as human cruelty.

It must have been painful for Jesus to realize how little His followers had understood and absorbed His example and teachings. But even on the cross He refuses to give in to human patterns of behaviour: rather than anger and desire for revenge He forgives those responsible for His death — the supreme example of the surrender of self to God. Our own celebration of the Lord’s Passion should not focus exclusively on His suffering. The reason for His suffering — fidelity to God’s mission of manifesting His love — is of greater importance. And with that is the call to all believers to discipleship — not suffering for its own sake but putting aside self, security and comfort for the sake of our world and its people.

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