(13 April 2014)
by Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson
Matthew 26 and 27
The Passion Narratives are a central feature of each gospel, focusing on the last week of Jesus’ life.
The passion drama is a story within the story of Jesus, one that includes all kinds of losses: betrayal, abandonment, physical suffering, humiliation, and death, as well as loss of control, of relationships, and of justice.
Other scholars point out the painful truth that the passion story, written first as an internal Jewish conversation, became fodder for lethal anti-Semitism for millennia. Passion plays from the middle ages, all the way through Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” have fed into dangerous, racist stereotypes.
This ugly underbelly fits into a larger narrative of the ways in which the dominant culture uses religion to oppress and to marginalize. Christianity that is held captive to this narrative must be overthrown by the prophetic, liberating gospel we have come to know. And overthrowing is always costly, thus “the passion.”
For this reflection, I have reduced my own understanding of Jesus’ passion to a message more simple and stark: Through losses, changes, and challenges — though weary — do not give up!
I continued to press on, limping, my feet aching, slipping, sliding, desperately wanting to sit down, chilled to the marrow. Even in this sopping wet state I could feel the hot tears welling in my eyes. Eventually I cried out to God and said, “God, what is this all about? Why am I out here? What am I doing here? Am I crazy?” then came the still, small voice of the Spirit as I sensed God saying, “No, David, I am just teaching you to endure; I am just checking you out.”
Finally after some six hours Carol arrived to collect me and I could hardly bend down to get in the car. I looked at her and said, “If I were a quitter, today would be the day I quit.” But as Carol turned the car, I knew once again that God was saying, “No one, after putting their hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the (Kin)dom of God!”
We have all been there, for many reasons, as diverse as each of our stories. Who can we go to, to admit that we wonder how we got here? We wonder if what we are doing makes a difference. We wonder if we are really crazy to care, to love, to work for justice, to minister, to do what we do, day after day. God, are you checking us out?
We are also checking You out!!! We are asking who You are, and what You want, and what You want with us in particular.
Jesus suffered his moments as well, as he journeyed to Jerusalem. After pouring himself out on a three-year, unrelenting road trip, he must have wondered, “Am I crazy? God, is this really what you want? How will it all end?”
The point of the story is, if we do not give up, if we hold on and hold out, and if we endure, we can trust the God we know in Jesus to use our suffering as the compost for something new, and good, and just. That will make a difference, changing lives and history.
I think of so many. Like those parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School (Newtown, Connecticut, USA), who bravely put their suffering to work so that others will not have to suffer the way they have. Or those LGBT people in Uganda who are standing proudly and suffering for justice with so little protection. There is a powerful intensity of “suffering transformed” that inspires awe and courage in the rest of us.
Suffering is part of being human. Unnecessary, undeserved suffering is the most poignant and mysterious of all. Jesus’ suffering and loss, his humanness before the Mystery, makes him most accessible to us, and most like us.
Finally, can we, like him, offer up our suffering and passion — our tears, our pain, our doubts, and our fears? Can we keep on and not quit until that day when hope and victory arrive at an empty tomb?