There is great hostility in the story we have just heard, all of it directed against Jesus. There is the hostility of the chief priests, of the Roman soldiers, of those who passed by and jeered as he hung from the cross. Alongside the hostility of those who rejected Jesus, there is the failure of those who had been closest to him. His disciples all deserted him and fled; Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him publicly. This is indeed the hour of the prince of darkness, when its brutality is fully exposed for all to see. Given full sway the prince of darkness knew it target very well . It has sought out the prince of love and nailed it fast to a tree.
Yet, in the midst of this great darkness, there were a few people who responded to Jesus faithfully and nobly. There was the anonymous woman who in an extravagant gesture of love and respect anointed the head of Jesus. Then there was the Roman centurion, who looked on as Jesus died and exclaimed, ‘Truly this man was the son of God’. Joseph of Arimathea took the bold step of going to Pilate to ensure Jesus had a dignified burial. The women disciples who looked on from a distance noted where Jesus was buried and went away to prepare spices to anoint his body at the earliest opportunity. All of these people men and women saw Jesus with eyes of faith and love.
The evangelist Mark does not dwell on the physical suffering of Jesus. There is no Mel Gibson and his movie of the Passion recounting every blow with senseless hype and exaggeration. Mark doesn’t go there. As regards the crucifixion he simply limits it to four words: ‘then the crucified him’. His focus is elsewhere. He wants us to go deeper, to dwell on the psychological suffering of Jesus, a suffering that we all must endure. Paul gives us the entry for this in the second reading today. For some reason or other the important preceding line is missing: “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.” In other words, we’re expected to have the same frame of mind as the risen Jesus.
Nowhere in his letters does the apostle more perfectly describe such a mindset. “Though he was in the form of God … he emptied himself … he humbled himself … becoming obedient to the point of death … because of this, God greatly exalted him.” Jesus keeps emptying himself so as to make room for sinners and the excluded. He will keep announcing God’s love for the least, identifying himself with the poorest and most despised, no matter how much this bothers the powers that be. Full of God’s love, he will keep offering salvation to those who suffer evil and sickness: he will give welcome to those who are excluded by society and religion; he will give away God’s free forgiveness to sinners and lost people, those who are unable to return his friendship. This saving attitude that inspired his whole life will also inspire his death. It is because Jesus emptied himself on behalf of the poor and to such a degree, that God exalted him and gave him a name above all other names.
We too are invited to take on the self-emptying love of Jesus. Let us take a leaf from those who saw Jesus with the eyes of faith and love, who recognized the light of God in the darkness of Jesus’ passion and death. When we look upon the passion and death of Jesus with such eyes, we see a divine love that is stronger than sin, a divine light that shines in all our darknesses, a divine power that brings new life out of all our deaths, a divine poverty that enriches us at the deepest level of our being.
There is a wonderful definition of the true disciple of God in today’s first reading. “Morning after morning,” the prophet announces, “The LORD opens my ear that I may hear.” May this definition be our guide as we enter Holy Week and travel the path of Jesus day by day! We are invited to enter into that journey with the eyes of the anointing woman, the centurion, Joseph of Arimathea and the group of faithful women. We look beneath the surface of what is happening, we listen deeply to all that is taking place, so as to recognize the good Shepherd who laid down his life for us all, so that we might have life and have it to the full.
Sunday, 29 March 2015