Peter, being armed with a sword, cuts off the servant’s ear in an attempt to prevent the arrest of Jesus in Grégoire Guérard’s The Capture of Jesus. Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: Jesus’ obedience a model to all God’s servants

  • March 31, 2023

Passion (Palm) Sunday (Year A) April 2 (Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66)

The job description for a prophet of the Lord is fairly simply but very exacting. He is no longer his own man; he belongs to God. This means that his own opinions, prejudices, plans and desires must be set aside. Rather than having a bully pulpit to hold forth on his favourite issues, he is strictly a spokesman for God and expresses the views of the one who anointed him. 

The Suffering Servant whom Isaiah describes is one that is silent unless bidden to speak by God, and what comes from his mouth must be what he heard during the silence and reflection of the early morning hours. He must share what he has received with others, especially with those who are discouraged or disheartened. 

The right words at the right time can make all the difference in the world. What is most striking is his seeming passivity in the face of persecution and violence. But this is more than passivity — it is renunciation of retribution and violence. He surrenders to the sustaining power and providence of God. 

The Suffering Servant is free from ego and its demands for vindication and validation. He receives this from God rather than humans. He is able to bear the physical and psychological abuse because of the inner strength that his relationship with God brings. 

The authors of the New Testament sketched Jesus in the same manner. In Luke 9:51, Jesus turned and set His face towards Jerusalem and His destiny. He stood courageously and silently before Pontius Pilate and His tormentors. His strength came from the knowledge that He was doing the will of God and that He was faithful to His identity and mission. The Suffering Servant is not just about the exiles in Babylon or about Jesus — it is the model or paradigm for all who walk the path of discipleship.

In the beautiful Jesus hymn that Paul incorporated in his letter to the Philippians, he presents an image of the life of Jesus and proposes that it become the model for lives of Christ-believers. Jesus did not deem His status of equality with God as something to make Him special or above others. He emptied Himself — He gave it all away and took on the lowliest role possible — that of a human slave. So fixed was He on doing the will of God that He was obedient even to the Cross. It was because of His extreme act of humble generosity and His absence of ego that God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to the heavens. 

Vulnerability and suffering, when done out of love and generosity, are sources of spiritual exaltation. There is absolutely nothing to fear in humble service and self-giving, which is the model for authentic Christian living.

The passion narrative offers a cross-section of humanity. Most of the apostles whom Jesus chose were not exactly the cream of the crop. There were braggarts and cowards, as well as a tax collector. None demonstrated deep understanding of His teachings. And then there was Judas, who for reasons known only to him and to God, betrayed Jesus to the temple authorities. The apostles performed very badly that night. They failed to provide comfort and support and could not even stay awake and pray with Jesus for an hour. When Jesus was arrested, one of them — contrary to the teachings and the example of Jesus — resorted to violence, cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Afterwards they faded away into the darkness, and before the night was out, Peter — who had loudly insisted that he would die with Jesus — denied he even knew Him. 

Jesus accepted the apostles as they were, knowing full well that they were flawed in many ways. Jesus would make fearless and great men of them through the gift of the Spirit. He also accepts all of us in the same way — with compassion and care. Jesus came to show us how to live a joyful life free from the entrapment of the worldly ways and values. He challenged human ways and died as a consequence. 

As we move through the readings and liturgy of Passion Sunday, it should leave us with a sense of hope and a burning desire to continue the mission of the Lord.