Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.(Luke 23:32-49)
During his Passion, the Gospels show Jesus in two different lights: on the one hand he is a victim, delivered into the hands of people who seek at all costs to hurt him, and treated as an object. On the other, he is King, ultimately deciding to remain in Jerusalem and face with dignity the fate that awaits him.
In the Gospel of St. John he says: "No one takes my life from me; it is I who give it" (John 10:18). Jesus, despite being Son of God, cannot change the hearts of those who want to take his life. Like all of us, he is faced with the painful experience of having to agree to certain events as they are.
But Jesus, in the poverty of his passion, also speaks to us about freedom. Nothing can ultimately force him to stop loving. He is free to give himself, even to those who do not deserve it. Jesus’ passion asks us one question: in the situations I am going through, what do I have to accept as it is? What do I have to change? Where is the balance within me between consenting and resisting?
The passion of Jesus also invites us to ask ourselves: to what extent should we protect ourselves? On the cross, Jesus makes himself vulnerable. He protects neither his person nor his message. The soldiers twist his body; the crowd and the authorities twist the meaning of his words. In his apparent passivity there is also a very great strength: the words of his Good News come out of his mouth, without artifice or argument.
He says things as they are. It is perhaps the poverty of these words that makes them so timeless. In his lack of sophistication, Jesus touches the very essence of things. As God, he comes to touch the root of our being in his poverty, and thus his holiness. As Pope Paul VI once said, "Every human being is sacred by the innocence of their childhood."
By making himself poor, God invites us to rid ourselves of what is not us, what is not of the order of that wounded innocence in which our being is rooted. Jesus’ passion therefore sets within us another set of questions: in what situations must I protect myself? In what others must I accept to move on empty-handed, defenceless? How can we not try too hard to protect what we say behind arguments or sophisticated talk? How can we learn to not be ashamed of our wounds?
Finally, Jesus’ passion presents us with an amazing scene: Jesus agrees to drink vinegar. Why must so bitter a drink enter the body of Jesus? The scriptures speak of good wine at the time of the encounter with God, as a drink that seals the covenant. Opposing that promised festival, what can the vinegar represent?
Jesus in his passion confronts us with one of the harshest realities of our life: in every loving relationship there is an element of bitterness. This bitterness is born of a painful mystery: we really only suffer from those we love. More than our enemies, it is our friends who hurt us, precisely because they are our friends and we go toward them defenseless.
By his actin drinking the cup of bitterness, Jesus asks us to assume the part of suffering inherent in any relationship and not to use it as a pretext to sever ties and abandon those who have hurt us. By consuming this bitterness, we can present it to God. He experienced that on the cross and shares it with us. As Brother Roger often used to said: the bitterness will be burned away in the fire of God’s love.
In the various situations in my life, what must I accept as it is? What should I try to change?
In what situations must I protect myself? In what others must I accept to move ahead empty-handed, defenceless?
Have I already been injured by those I love? How can I let God transform that bitterness inside myself?