The Passion can seem so far away.
Despite the fact that many of us will listen very carefully to the story of the Passion today, the events that happened in 1st-century Palestine can seem unimaginably distant. When I was growing up in suburban Philadelphia, it seemed not participatory but in fact slightly risible when the parishioners at my hometown church would say, “Crucify him!” Or rather, the unexclamated, “Crucify him...” For one thing, no one there felt like crucifying Jesus. For another, we were sitting in a comfortable climate-controlled church listening to a sedate retelling of the Passion, not baying for someone’s blood in a hot dusty square in Jerusalem. We believed that Jesus suffered, died and rose from the dead, but that was a long time ago.
Yet every day we are called to reenact that Passion--by dying to self. We are called to let go of, to relinquish, to let die, anything that keep us from greater freedom to follow Jesus. And by dying to our self we, paradoxically, experience new life.
So on this Good Friday it is important to ask ourselves: “What is keeping you from more closely following Jesus?” What needs to die so that God can give you new life? For me it’s the need to be liked and admired by all. That has to die, so that I might be more able to follow Christ. I’ve been praying for God’s help lately, in letting that part of me die.
That’s why this “Christ in Gethsemane” painting by Heinrich Hofmann has always been a favorite. Mocked (and I use that word intentionally) by art critics as kitschy or banal, it shows Jesus at the moment when he gives up everything to God the Father—especially all his hopes for his life’s great project, which seems to be at an end. Into his hands he commends his spirit. And I believe—though I may be wrong—that while Jesus freely accepted the future that God had in store, he may not have known exactly what kind of new life God would give him.
At Gethsemane, Jesus’s experiences directly intersect with our own “dyings to self.” For neither do we know, when we die to self, exactly what God will do. But we hope. As Jesus did.
James Martin, SJ