The Passion of Jesus is one we are so familiar with that we are tempted to skim it. But it is a time to pause in our constantly changing world. We have the opportunity to notice and claim our responsibility for the world we have had a hand in making. Here is Jesus: betrayed by one of his own, denied by the disciple who will eventually lead his church, abandoned by those who loved him. Jesus is called before the political power of his day because the religious leaders of his time are threatened by Jesus’ charisma, following, and power. Writers say that we are storytellers. This us how we make sense of everything around us from arising in the morning to working for peace and justice. Other writers say, if we want to change our life and the world, we need to begin with stories.
Six stories have contributed to shaping our lives as individuals and as societies that have given direction and impulse even without being fully aware of them. They are domination, revolution, cleansing from the other, isolation, victimisation, accumulation. These stories touched Jesus and he resisted them because these stories do not work. They do not bring people together, heal or free them. They cause division, suffering and do not contribute to making a better world. For Jesus this human system did not work, and an alternative was needed where equality, compassion, sacrifice, and mutual service operate.
Jesus had a seventh story. Though available to all, and continues to be, it was misunderstood and causes fear in people in power and who have much to lose. Jesus’ story upends what we have been taught by religion, politics, and economics. Jesus came to show us how we could embody another story by seeing ourselves as God sees us and to acknowledge our vulnerability and interconnectedness with others and the rest of creation.
At the end of his life, Jesus is at the mercy of a mindless mob, who are not interested in his story, and scream for his blood. In Jesus, God descended, came down to be with us, and sought people to raise them up. We see how the world deals with such people. His death reveals the incorruptibility of his spirit, the depth of his love and forgiveness, the reality of his relationship with God, and reveals the barbarity which we are capable of. This seventh story takes shape when we look at him and see the one who calls us sisters and brothers. Though capable of the worst at times, he shows us that we can live justly, love tenderly, and show deep compassion that transforms the stranger into a sibling. People in crowds have no connections with each other. The call is to become a community – a new community.
We know from the Passion story how the hands that waved palms quickly became fists. Jesus, and many who follow, continue to fall victim to ever new cadres of fearful leaders who use fear to control people. Like many people before and after him, Jesus dies at the hands of power but time the bloodshed changes everything. It reveals God's love. It reveals God with us. It reveals God coming to be with us where we are.
We cannot close our eyes to reality of suffering, pain, tragedy, and grief. The innocent, the poor and the vulnerable are not spared suffering. Jesus reminds us that God has entered our ‘holy city’ - those places of defeat and pain in our lives. As on Good Friday, something different happens today. We must take part as actors or participants in the drama. There can be no spectators. We cannot avoid Jesus’ continuing passion and wounds in the world as Covid-19 so recently revealed and still reveals the deep wounds in our world. These are the wounds of exceptionalism, individualism, competition. The story of Jesus upturns our old ways of thinking in our personal lives and on the macro-level – that might is not right; power does not liberate; death is not the end of life; death cannot overcome love; success does not measure human worth; violence does not end conflict. Jesus has stopped talking but reveals the destructive horror of the powers by submitting to their evil machinations. He exposes the emptiness, the poverty, the hidden vulnerability of those in power by choosing a different way, a way of love and grace and peace. Jesus could have walked away from all this and avoided the suffering. So many people do not walk away either. We learn what abuse, abandonment, violence, loss of friends, family and failure means by sitting with them – people who, as Fr. Daniel Berrigan put it, ‘touched the nerve of injustice.’ Jesus’ death reveals God’s continuing identification with all victims up to the present moment. God’s suffering cries are united to theirs. Through the crucified, God questions any form of worship that forgets the tragic world where the weak, defenceless continue to suffer and be ‘crucified.’
God is not indifferent to human suffering and Jesus’ entry into the holy city makes every place of suffering holy ground. The One who invites all people into God’s reign welcomes not so much the powerful, the victorious or the dominant but the grieving, the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the persecuted – the ones the world might shun as ‘losers’. The heart of Jesus’ message was that the human system is not working. An alternative was/is needed where equality, compassion, sacrifice, and mutual service operate. Where power is not grasped and asserted over others but is given away and shared.
Each of us must join Jesus and go ‘up to Jerusalem.’ Like Jesus, our personal Jerusalem may be a place where we seem to be losers: where our faith values are disregarded or trashed; where we face daily encounters with forces that oppose our best efforts; where political structures defeat the disenfranchised; where the world of high tech and privileged education broaden the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Commemorating Jesus’ Passion means we continue our struggle to transform our world into a more human world. This has a political dimension. But it also means being open, sensitive, and touchable for the person who lives next to me. It is to be able to open our hearts, our ears, our eyes, to hear and to see the suffering of others and our Common Home. The world continues to ache. Let us wash our hands, not of responsibility for the suffering of others but as Wendell Berry says, “practice resurrection.”
Compiled by Claude Mostowik msc,
Director, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre
Convenor, Pax Christi Australia [NSW]
President, Pax Christi Australia