Each year on this Sunday the Church reads an account of the Passion of Jesus. As we listen to it, we are reminded of the cowardice of the followers who abandoned him in his hour of greatest need, of the wickedness of the religious leaders who plotted his death, and of the cruelty of the soldiers who carried out his execution. And we need to be reminded of these things, because we have a kinship with them. But that is not the purpose of the Passion reading. We hear too much bad news as it is.
The emphasis is not there. The emphasis is on Jesus, the central character in the story. What we are remembering is the fidelity, the courage, and the sheer goodness of Jesus. Against the darkness of Calvary his goodness shines all the more brightly. The day of his death is not called “Bad Friday” but “Good Friday.” What makes it good is the love of Jesus. “Greater love no man has than to who lay down his life for his friends.” It is that love that we are remembering this week.
The early Christians saw in the passion and death of Jesus the triumph of failure. With the help of the Scriptures, they came to understand that this was precisely how Jesus triumphed and entered into his glory. His glory cannot be separated from his passion.
On the surface, it may seem as if it was a defeat for Jesus. It was not a defeat. It was a victory. It was the triumph of good over evil, of love over hate, of light over darkness, and of life over death.
The Passion Story shows how Jesus responded to what was done to him. He absorbed all the violence, transformed it, and returned it as love and forgiveness. This was the victory of love over all the powers of destruction. There was nothing but love in him. Even when they nailed his hands and feet, he was loving. It helps to think about that when we are going through these hard times.
It is a consolation for us to know that Jesus suffered. Yet his suffering would have been wasted if he had not endured it with love. It was not Jesus’ suffering that saved the world but his love. Anyone who pretends to love suffering is crazy. Suffering is something that you would give almost anything to avoid. Yet we are glad to suffer for someone we love. Our love gives a meaning to our suffering. Jesus was the Good Shepherd dying because he loved his sheep.
Suffering that is merely endured does nothing for our souls, except perhaps harden them. It is the spirit in which we bear our burden that matters.
It is not suffering that redeems the world, but love. It is not our suffering that God wants but our love. However, love inevitably brings pain. But it also brings great joy. The Christian must not only accept suffering: he / she must make it holy. Love makes it holy. Every day I pray that these days of the Covid-19 pandemic in the world and in our country good will triumph over evil, love over hate, light over darkness, and life over death.