Preached March 25, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
In the 2nd Eucharistic prayer, the priest introduces the consecration narrative saying of Jesus, “At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his Passion.”
These words highlight two concurrent themes of Jesus’ Passion and Death. First, Jesus was betrayed by Judas, which led to his condemnation and crucifixion, making Jesus to be, from one perspective, the victim of the most horrific crime in history. Second, Jesus was not taken against his will, but he ‘entered willingly into his Passion’, offering himself freely as a sacrificial victim in expiation for all the sins and crimes of mankind, individually and collectively.
The betrayal, condemnation, and crucifixion show us the outer reality of Jesus’ suffering and death. Nevertheless, his free self-offering show us the inner reality, which is more powerful, so powerful that it not only gives meaning to what he underwent, but gives meaning to all of our suffering and our death as well. By freely offering his own life, Jesus is at the same time both priest and sacrificial victim.
Jesus’ voluntary self-offering is found in the words of the prophet in today’s 1st reading, I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not hide from buffets and spitting.
It is found in the words of St. Paul in today’s 2nd reading: He humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
It is found in the Gospel and is expressed in a special way by his words at the moment of his betrayal and arrest: Day after day I was with you teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me; but that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.
We might hear these words as though the course of Jesus life is determined by some impersonal fate, over which he is powerless, but that is not so. The Scriptures do not determine the course of his life from outside, rather he obeys the Scriptures as manifesting the will of his Father, which is his own will, the intention according to which he freely emptied himself, took our human flesh, and was born of the Virgin Mary. That the Scriptures might be fulfilled – in effect that means, “I have the power to evade your capture, as I have done many times before, but now the hour is come and I hand myself over to you in obedience to my Father’s plan, announced to you beforehand.”
Let us return to those words from the 2nd Eucharistic prayer: “At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his Passion.” At that very time he made known his intention, his willingness, and the meaning of his passion by instituting the Holy Eucharist: This is my Body; This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many.
He did this beforehand, but now that the veil of the temple has been torn in two, we have confidence of entering into sanctuary through the Blood of Jesus, because it is the blood of the covenant, the fruit of the vine that he now drinks with us ‘new’ in the Kingdom of God – this is the reality of the Mass. (cf. Heb 10:19-20)
Now, as we draw near, each one of us is presented with a choice. Which kind of ‘victim’ will I be?
For his part, Jesus freely assumed all the limitation and suffering that belongs to our human condition and freely offered himself as a pleasing sacrifice to his Father. No one took his life from him; he laid it down of his own accord.
For our part, however, we have no choice – at least in general – about the fact of limitation and suffering; that is part of human life. There are some limitations that we can and should strive to overcome; there are some sufferings that we can and should avoid. Nevertheless, in this life we cannot altogether avoid limitation and suffering and the final limitation and suffering that each one of us must face is death itself.
We cannot avoid limitation and suffering – nor can we understand the reason for the distribution of human suffering – but we can choose what kind of ‘victim’ we will be. We can choose to be the victim of a crime, refuse responsibility, and cast the blame on others (and even on God himself).
Or we can unite ourselves with Jesus, praying, Abba, Father, all things are possible. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will. Through, with, and in Jesus Christ, we can offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, our spiritual worship. (Rm 12:1)