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Holy Week Reflection

Life Beyond Measure

April 19, 2011

For, as Bonhoeffer observes, it is as he grieves in Gethsemane that Jesus asks us to “watch with him for one hour”:  the very opposite of what the religious man expects from God (namely, a supernatural answer to all our problems).

Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God After God, p. 70

As we enter this year’s celebration of Holy Week, followed by Easter, we hear again the familiar narrative of the Passion and Death of Jesus.  The words and images are so familiar to us, the product of life-long and by now embedded interpretations.   Depending on the current form our life has taken, those interpretations can be consoling or depressing, hopeful or infuriating.  What they may, unfortunately, have ceased to be is mysterious and confounding.  The power of the Word, and of the words we read and hear this week that mediate the Word, is a power to break open our lives and our consciousness, to lay waste our expectations, and to expand our worlds and deepen our presence to the Real.  But more often than not, we fall asleep as the Disciples in Gethsemane, overcome by the drowsiness and common sense of our embedded understandings and repetitious interpretations.

     The Jesus of the Gospels is the Christ, the Messiah of God.  He is, as the Angel tells Joseph, Emmanuel, “God with us”.  Thus, it is God who asks the Disciples to “watch with him for one hour” and who gives his body and pours out his life blood for us.  The Passion and Death of Jesus is revelation, not of a God who demands the suffering of a human being as retribution but rather of One whose life is constantly being poured out for us.  This means that the God whom Jesus reveals comes to those who make a space for him.   He is known by the woman who washes his feet and dries them with her hair, by the sinners and tax collectors, and by the pagans and unbelievers who suffer their own poverty but who risk trusting in the mercy and love of the stranger.  This God becomes present and known to those who care for him in his multiple disguises:  as the sinner, the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the victim of robbers, and the feared and despised stranger.

     Too often as we read the accounts of the Passion of Jesus we ask ourselves, what must we do in order to imitate Jesus and so be reconciled to God?  But, as Bonhoeffer points out, what Jesus asks of his Disciples is to watch one hour with him.  It is to stay with him, to open their life for one hour to his life.  It is to recognize and receive the life of God that is being poured out at this very moment.  Except for a few of the women closest to Jesus, however, the Disciples for the most part sleep, deny, run away.  The passion and death of Jesus, the refusal of the gift of God, is a result of the inability of many of the people and the powers of his time to keep watch and to be hospitable to the Divine life that comes in the strange, unexpected, and unrecognizable form of Jesus.  Jesus dies not to make us right with God, but because we are unable to recognize and receive the gift of God’s ever present, creative, and outpouring love that he is.  As Jesus says to the Samaritan Woman,  "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  (John 4, 10)  God’s life is always being poured out for us; God’s life blood is always being given up for us.  This is the meaning of the Passion.  All we need do is ask for it.

     So, the Passion of Jesus demonstrates the nature of the love of God, and thus what is required for us to share that life.   Before proceeding to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus and his Disciples share a meal.  And, as the Gospel writers present it, the center of that meal involves a blessing.

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22, 19-20)

     This blessing tells us the meaning of all that is to follow.  In the coming day, as throughout his whole life, Jesus is to give his body and pour out his blood for us.  It is in this full measure of self-giving that he reveals the true nature of God to us.  God’s love and presence are always coming to us, in everyone we meet and in everything we undergo.  What is required of us to know this love and to fully participate in this passionate self-gift is to live in like measure.

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  (Luke 6, 38)

     During these holy days, may we recognize the measure of God’s love, not only where we tend to look for it, but especially in those situations and toward those persons from whom we ordinarily look to God to deliver us.  Where we have been measuring meanly, may we let go and offer ourselves generously.  In this way, may we share in the love that has no bounds, that pours itself out even unto death for the sake of life.

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Last updated: 11/25/10.