Isaiah 50:4-7. Psalm 21. Philippians 2:6-11. Matthew 26:14-27:66
As you might expect, all of our readings today are powerful. There are several homilies worth in each one, but I’d like to continue with my theme this Lent of the human story, both ours and that of Jesus.
Because our Gospel reading, the Passion of Christ, is a catalogue of human failure. It all starts well; the disciples must have been excited and looking forward to spending the Passover feast with their friend and master. The room was booked, the preparations in place and the meal started.
I would imagine that the conversation was that of most celebratory gatherings, small talk, with the occasional more profound conversation, simply enjoying each other’s company. But then, Jesus speaks these words;
“I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me”.
Talk about a conversation killer. There must have been a stunned silence, perhaps just time to vaguely recall something that Jesus had told them several times on their travels…something about ‘the Son of Man is going to be put to death’? How do you respond to a statement like that? Well, the disciples responded with the first and perhaps keenest of human failures…’Not I Lord, surely’.
We’re told that to a man, this was their response. Peter, who was to deny Jesus not once, but three times. Judas, who did the deed. And the others, all except John, were nowhere to be seen at Calvary. This must have cut Christ’s humanity to the core. These were not sworn enemies of Jesus, but his friends. Friends who Jesus had taught to call God their ‘Father’ and himself a brother. And yet, friends who could so easily betray, deny, and abandon him as well as any adversary.
A little later, with the kiss of Judas, the failure continues; spat on, beaten and ridiculed. The crowd bought by the chief priests and elders to shout for Barabbas, condemnation by a man who thought that the simple act of washing hands would exonerate all guilt, scourging, mocking and finally, execution.
Jesus was subjected to the very worst that humankind has to offer. Surely his words from the cross “My God, My God, why have you deserted me?’ must, in part, have been a cry from the very heart of Jesus’ humanity. Fully human, he must have been tempted beyond belief to ask his Father for the twelve legions of Angels that he talked of at Gethsemane. But he didn’t. Instead he fulfilled his mission; he died for us. And in so doing, he gave us a gift. A gift that we didn’t earn, and we didn’t deserve.
What does all of this mean for us today. It’s tempting to go down the route of personal examination. How often have WE betrayed, denied and abandoned Christ? How often have WE unjustly condemned, coerced, and mocked? How often have WE symbolically washed our hands of our responsibilities? Although this is worth thinking on now and then, we must remember that there is more to come. The story hasn’t finished with the death of Christ; in fact, it’s only just begun. It’s a story of hope, of reconciliation, of enlightenment, of joy. If we dwell on personal examination at the expense of the ongoing story, then perhaps we’re missing the point; perhaps instead of accepting the gift of the Resurrection with gratitude and love, we’re trying to earn it and convince ourselves that we deserve it.
The fact is, that even in his agony, Christ still died for us with all that that entails. He subjected himself to the very worst of humanity in order to free us; to offer us a better way. Although, with human thought, it might be difficult to understand why Jesus did this for us when he was so barbarically ill-used, nonetheless, he did.
The wonder of this is, that even had the Resurrection not followed, the Passion would still give us a hope that we have no right to expect. Because Christs willingness to die for us proves beyond doubt that when we are feeling unloved, we are loved. When we are feeling unlovable, we are loved. When we struggle to love others, they are loved. When society rejects those that it feels cannot be loved, they too are loved.
When we doubt God’s unconditional love for us, especially when we think that we’ve failed him, then think of the Passion, failed by all and yet Jesus still died for us out of nothing else but love.
So as Christian disciples called to imitate Christ, our job is not to wonder why, but to love.
With my love and prayers for you all, may God bless you. Deacon Anthony