Many of us have been raised in such a way that,
after we hear Palm Sunday's Passion narrative (Mt 26:14-27:66), we believe
our proper response is simply to say, "Thank you, Jesus! Thank you for
dying for me!"
The four evangelists (and all other Christian
sacred authors who describe Jesus' suffering and death) are looking for a
different response. They anticipate we'll say, "Thank you for showing
me how I can die for others."
If Matthew, for instance, wanted to inform us
about the physical pain Jesus
endured for us, he did a lousy job. He mentions almost nothing about it.
Unbelievably, he describes Jesus' actual crucifixion in just one small,
dependent clause: "After they had crucified Him...."
There is nothing about the horrendous pain of
nails piercing His wrists or the horrible torment of a raw, scourged back
scraping against rough wood for three hours. But the biblical writers want
their communities to thank them for hitting them where it hurts: the point
in their faith that is the most vulnerable, the issue they'd prefer not to
Jesus' followers have one goal in life: to
imitate His dying and rising. We presume everyone longs for life -- a
content, fulfilled existence in this world, the next or both. Christians are
convinced this longed-for life can be attained by walking down the road
Jesus first explored: by dying throughout their earthly lives.
The question is, "How do we pull that
off?" Do we actually give ourselves over to the physical pain and death
Jesus endured? No doubt, for some, such physical pain and death will be
But, for the majority, our suffering and dying
for others will consist of the psychological pain and death we willingly
endure for those we love.
That's why Matthew downplays the physical pain
and emphasizes the psychological. It's the kind of suffering we most need to
hear about, the kind of suffering we'll most likely face.
Listen carefully to Jesus' pain: betrayed by a
trusted friend and deserted by His most committed followers...tormented
about His mission...misunderstood by those He wanted to help...falsely
accused and condemned by His religious and civil leaders.
In spite of all these obstacles, He never stops
loving, never stops giving Himself.
Paul zeroes in on the same loving
characteristic when he quotes a well-known early Christian hymn in the
second reading (Philippians 2:6-11): Jesus "emptied Himself,....humbled
himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a
Giving of self
No one empties oneself for others without
experiencing pain. Isaiah discovered that 500 years before Jesus' birth
Though Yahweh wakes him each morning, opening
his ear to prepare him "to speak to the weary a word that will arouse
them," it's those "weary" who seem eventually to have killed
him. They're the people who beat him, plucked his beard and spit on him.
Both Jesus and Isaiah were convinced that one
reaches life only by giving, even if the giving is misunderstood, rejected
and the source of one's daily dying.