For some reason this Holy Week I am constantly being drawn to putting on the mind of Christ. What was Jesus really experiencing as his execution as a common criminal drew closer?
Today’s reading from John tells us that in part Jesus was thinking about betrayal and denial. Sharing a final meal with those whom he loved (and I don’t think the guest list included only men), Jesus realized that Judas would betray him to accord with the scripture about 30 pieces of silver. Jesus realized that the bold and often fickle Peter would melt down when challenged about friendship with him before the cock could crow three times. Betrayal at the hands of others is always painful. It is also very painful when people deny you when the chips are down.
Jesus would be thinking about Lazarus, Mary and Martha. He had visited his dear friends earlier in the week to see how Lazarus was doing. He enjoyed sharing a meal with them. He especially savored Mary’s anointing of his feet. How he dearly loved this family.
He was thinking that he had to leave Bethany, walked over the hill and enter Jerusalem. He had hoped no one would recognize him because he was on the Roman’s most wanted list.
In the words of Isaiah, he pondered his work over the past three years:
Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, Yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense is with my God.
He had worked to restore justice. He had preached and lived love, mercy, forgiveness, and non-violence. The 99% of his day heard his message loud and clear but would it have any lasting effect? This is such a common human dilemma that a person such as Thomas Merton had to remind James Forest that justice work is not about results:
Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it get much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that save everything. (http://gazealongtheopenroad.tumblr.com/post/19634597176/letter-from-thomas-merton-to-jim-forest-commonly-known#_=_)
Mother Teresa knew that discipleship is about perseverance. The results are up to God.
Jesus was thinking about how his dense followers had really not grasped the full import of his message. When the soldiers seized him in the garden one of them resorted to the violence of the sword. Peter was the head dunce. Impetuous by nature he had the habit of tripping over his own tongue. Jesus wondered whether, after his execution, they would finally understand. From the rest of the story, we know that they did once they were anointed by the Spirit of the Risen Christ.
Jesus was afraid, very afraid. When the Romans crucified rebellious Jews along a road near Nazareth when Jesus was a young boy, he saw firsthand what the Romans would do to maintain power and control. His fear really came out in the Garden. He was sweating so profusely that it was as if he were bleeding.
Jesus was thinking about his mother, his brothers, and his disciples. He would soon be leaving them behind. He would see them no more. His mother and brothers had tried to dissuade him from continuing his preaching and healing but Jesus knew what he had to do.
Denial, rejection, betrayal, being misunderstood, wondering whether he had made any difference, loss of contact with loved ones, and fear—the full panoply of negative human emotions. In spite of these overpowering emotions, Jesus kept his eyes on the prize. His final prayer in the Garden showed him submitting to the will of Abba Father.
What does all this teach us? What does the emotional agony of Jesus’ last days say to us as we struggle to make sense of our lives?