Jesus’ mission bears witness to God’s Kingdom

  • April 6, 2011
Passion Sunday (Year A) April 17 (Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66)

When people find meaning in their suffering they can endure almost anything. This was the insight of the great philosopher and psychologist Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning and how right he was.

The enigmatic suffering servant figure of Isaiah is a case in point for his suffering had the highest meaning. We do not know who he was or even if he was a particular individual but we do know that he suffered much abuse in the course of his ministry. This is not some sort of masochistic suffering for its own sake nor does it excuse injustice and cruelty. But one thing is clear: he is able to undergo such suffering and abuse because he knows that he is bearing the divine teaching within him and that he is fulfilling God’s mission. As long as he is continually renewed and instructed within he is able to remain focused with a laser-like intensity and purpose. Whatever is received from God is for the sake of others — our teacher continually gives hope and encouragement to the weary and discouraged. This is the model of the great men and women in history who have given their lives over to the advancement of humanity and have often paid a big price. There is so much today that is worth striving and suffering for — we need only listen to the voice of the spirit within us for guidance.

The Philippian passage is probably an early Christian hymn celebrating the incarnation. It represents not only the self-giving love expressed in the Son’s laying aside of all privilege and power but even taking on a position of supreme humility and weakness, that of a slave. But it is precisely this "letting go" and going into exile that results in his exaltation and empowerment. This does not set well with humans — we have a strong drive for self-preservation and personal power. But these attempts at self-protection usually have negative consequences. This is more than a description of the redemptive act of the Son — it is a model for authentic human living. Paul uses it in his letter as an exhortation to his community to imitate the humility and self-giving of Christ. We are presented with very different images of power — only by relinquishing power and privilege can we experience true exaltation of the sort that only God can grant. Most human conflict is caused by the clash of egos whether in the workplace, family or international scene. The model of self-emptying presented in this hymn is the way out of our prison. Will we try it?

The entrance into Jerusalem and the Passion celebrated on Palm Sunday is a theological drama that portrays human weakness and failure on the one hand and hopeful possibility offered by God on the other. There is the well-known account of human weakness, fickleness, failure, betrayal and cruelty. Jesus was let down by all human beings but especially those closest to Him, His friends and disciples. Could it have been otherwise? Certainly. And was death absolutely necessary? No, but being absolutely faithful to God’s mission was. This made persecution and death almost certain. This mission was to teach and bear witness to the principles of God’s Kingdom. These were proclaimed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: non-violence; humility; a thirst for righteousness and justice; peacemaking; purity of thought, speech, heart and action; forgiveness; and patience.

But Jesus did more than proclaim them — He lived them out and expressed them perfectly. He did not weaken and resort to the usual human expedients of manipulation, power plays or violence. Doing so placed Him on a collision course with human society, just as it does for His true disciples today. The crucifixion continues in so many places in the world where human cruelty and injustice have their way. At the same time, many recognize the folly of continuing on the path of human fear and selfishness. When people dedicate themselves to the service of humanity and the application of divine principles they are able to extend God’s reign and restore a portion of the world to God.

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