The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
– Is. 50
The most important week of the entire year has begun, a week beginning with heady acclamation, descending through humiliation and unimaginable death, and ending in glorious triumph. It is my favorite week of the year, although this year I feel kind of, well, distracted. (Imagine that.)
I thought Holy Week would be a good time to reflect on Jesus the man. Chances are, the TV stations will be showing various epic productions of the Passion this week. I’ve never really enjoyed those movies, because Jesus always acts so unrealistic. I think that in our desire to be reverent, Christians often forget that Jesus was fully human as well as fully God. I think if Jesus had acted like he acts in these movies, nobody would have paid the slightest attention to him.
Think about the people who capture hearts and imaginations these days. People like Barack Obama. Whether or not you like and approve of him, he is clearly an inspirational force. The world may be different now than it was two thousand years ago, but human nature is the same. People respond to fire, to passion, to humor and warmth. They would not have come in droves, from distances so great that they ran out of food, for anything less. I’ll bet when Jesus told parables, he was darned funny. I’ll bet he took people from rolling in the aisles to breathless poignancy in the space of a heartbeat. I’ll bet people left his presence with tears crusted in the corners of their eyes, from laughter and painful self-recognition, from joy and inspiration.
On Palm Sunday, as I listened to the Passion through the walls of the sacristy, where I was nursing, a verse from Mark’s Gospel leaped out at me—a verse I’ve never caught before, despite hearing it many times:
They gave him wine drugged with myrrh,
but he did not take it.
Then they crucified him.
They gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it.
Is it possible that the Romans, the quintessential villains, were actually trying to show mercy to the condemned? Were they trying to dull the pain of crucifixion, the way that lethal injection is supposed to offer the modern condemned a painless death?
And if so, what does Jesus’ refusal mean?
It means that he accepted, and embraced, the full measure of pain. If he was going to be the sacrificial Lamb, he was going to do it without crutches. He was going to drink deep of agony, spare himself nothing…and in so doing, spare us everything. This must be at least a part of what Paul meant when he said that Christ “emptied himself.”
This is the man—the God—whose human journey, with its divine ending, we remember this week.
Happy Holy Week.