The Last Supper, ca. 1520, Andrea Solari, after Leonardo da Vinci, oil on canvas, currently in the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, Tongerlo Abbey.

God will never desert us

  • March 10, 2016

Passion (Palm) Sunday (Year C) March 20 (Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 2:14-23:56)

How do we make sense of catastrophe and disaster? We usually look for explanations and causes, or more often than not, someone to blame. 

The first Christians struggled with the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. How could such a thing happen, especially to one whom they fervently believed to be the long-promised Messiah? Why didn’t He resist or defend Himself? Why did God seem to have abandoned Him? They pored over the Scriptures for clues to illuminate the person and life of Jesus. They found many passages that seemed right on the mark, and these were appropriated for the New Testament and its portrayal of Jesus. 

Psalm 22, along with portions of other psalms, served as a good lens through which to view the passion of Jesus. The motherlode of illuminative passages was the Suffering Servant portion of the Book of Isaiah. 

These passages should be seen as tools for understanding the mission of Jesus rather than prooftexts for apologetic or polemical purposes. The sufferings and tribulations of an unnamed figure, who can be described as a prophet, teacher and martyr, are described in dramatic detail. He is one totally open to God and obedient to the divine will. He is constantly instructed and guided by God, and he proclaims God’s words without fear or hesitation. The Servant offers no resistance to his persecutors and tormentors, standing silent and courageous before them. He is utterly convinced that God will vindicate him and that he will not be put to shame. There was no power on Earth that could defeat him. 

Jesus had the same oneness of heart, mind and soul with God the Father, and the divine power of His words were evident to most people. We note the refusal of Jesus to flee His impending passion, as well as His silence at His trial. He embraced His suffering with that same flinty determination and conviction that God would not desert Him. 

But this prophecy is not only about the Suffering Servant or Jesus — it describes our own life journey. When we remain fixed in our commitment and divine ideals, all things are possible. What might seem like a brick wall is only a temporary distraction or detour. 

Suffering in itself is not helpful or desirable. It is only the purpose and meaning given to suffering that renders it redemptive or sacred. The early Christian hymn that Paul used in the letter to the Philippians interprets perfectly the motive and mission of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. For the sake of love, Jesus completely emptied Himself, temporarily divesting Himself of divine powers and privileges, in order to assume the human condition at its lowest level. He did not cling or hold back. He was totally obedient to God the Father even to the cross. It was because of this that He was lifted up and given exalted status over all creation. 

Apparent weakness and loss, when undertaken for a higher purpose, is the source of true spiritual power and transformation. Paul included this in his letter in order to urge all believers to use this as the model for authentic Christian living to the extent that they are able each day.  

Why did Jesus die? Very simple — His life and teachings challenged human behaviour, attitudes, values and worldviews. His relentless mission was to mirror to people what they were really like while providing them a vision of what they could with God’s grace become. That’s disturbing and unsettling, and He would be treated in a similar fashion today. 

Even His closest disciples failed to get it. At the Last Supper, they squabbled among themselves over which of them was the greatest. He had to remind them that in order to be His followers they had to empty themselves of ego and selfishness and learn to live for others. Jesus endured treachery from one of them and cowardice from another. His trial was marked by lies, torture, ritual humiliation and an ignominious death. 

In spite of this, Jesus continued His mission until His last breath. Having already wept over Jerusalem, He forgave His tormentors and extended forgiveness and mercy to one of the criminals crucified with Him. 

God the Father and Jesus share a common name: mercy. That should be our name too.