Jesus showed us God’s perfect love

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  • March 20, 2012

Passion Sunday (Year B) April 1 (Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47)

Simple words can encourage and give hope to those who are on the verge of despair and defeat. Careless, foolish or cruel words usually destroy, deflate and snuff out life.

The Suffering Servant figure in Isaiah was a person of the first approach. We have no idea who he was and it really doesn’t matter. Of prime importance is the way in which this individual was guided by God — his inner spiritual senses were attuned to the whisperings of the Spirit.

The revelations that came to the Servant were not for himself but for the people during the exile, especially those who were losing heart and giving in to doubts. As with all divine commissions, this one came with a price: the hatred and opposition of many.

Mere stubbornness or perseverance is not sufficient to keep going in the face of so much resistance. The inner conviction that they are hearing the voice of God and are instruments of the Divine will keeps servants of God slogging along day after day. Very little would be possible without divine assistance and blessing. But how does one know if the calling is genuine? Just this: it is never the personal project of the one called or merely an expression of his or her opinions and prejudices. The voice of God often leads us where we would rather not go and prompts us to do things that we would rather leave to others. Only those whose hearts and minds are close to God will be able to hear and to understand.

In our own world hope is precious but a rather rare commodity, as is wisdom and moral courage. The voices of people of faith should not be raised in acrimonious controversies or harsh and moralizing condemnations. We can offer the world words of hope and wisdom — and they will be received gratefully by many — but it will require humility, attentiveness, compassion and courage.

Self-advancement and preservation at all costs is at the core of most human activity. People are so afraid of losing out or being deprived. Jesus was so close to the mind and heart of God that he was able to let go of everything, including divine privileges and powers.

He was not afraid of losing out or being stripped of his identity and he willingly became supremely vulnerable for our sakes. The love for humanity and trust in the Father that he displayed was matched by the exaltation and status given to Him as a result of his mission. Paul presented this portrayal of a totally self-giving Jesus as a model for Christian living.

We never lose when we sacrifice for the sake of others or when we exercise compassionate action in our lives. 

Mark’s version of the Passion of Jesus is characterized by abandonment, suffering and failure. The apostles fail to really understand the teachings of Jesus and they are not even capable of sitting with Him for an hour in solidarity.

Peter will fail his Master by denying that he even knows Him. Judas will fail Jesus by betraying Him and the others will flee in terror into the night leaving Jesus to His fate.

Finally, from a human point of view, the short ministry of Jesus was a failure.

We can never judge a situation well by external appearances or while events are still unfolding.

The stark message of the passion narrative is that human efforts alone are not enough — we absolutely need God.

Even though the Passion is a bleak event and an essential part of Christian spirituality, it is important that the cross not be portrayed as an end in itself. Gratuitous suffering or injustice should not be spiritualized or encouraged. The mission of Jesus was to manifest the perfect love of God and to reveal in His person and life both true humanity and true divinity. This of course alarmed those in power for they always have the most to lose when people understand themselves in this new way. Jesus paid the price with the cross but the cross was not the goal of His mission — it was the consequence.

Those in the story didn’t know how the story would end, but our joy during this mediation on the Passion is the expectation of the ultimate victory of love over human darkness.

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