The quiet powerlessness of Jesus

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Homily for Good Friday 2013
(Scriptures for this liturgy)

Audio for homily

In the high drama of this gospel, Jesus has very little to say.
In the garden after the last supper, his words are few:
“Whom are you looking for?”
“I am he.”
“If you are looking for me, let these others go.”
“Put your sword away.”
Before the high priest Jesus says,
“I have always spoken publicly...
Ask those who heard me what I said...”
“If I have spoken the truth, why do you strike me?”
Before Pilate Jesus says:
“My kingdom does not belong to this world...
“You would have no power over me
if it had not been given to you from above.”
From the cross Jesus says:
“Woman, behold your son... Son, behold your mother.”
“I thirst.”
“It is finished.”
As terse as these words are,
they nonetheless contain everything he needed to say:
He identifies himself.
He protects innocent bystanders.
He shuns violence on his behalf.
He speaks the truth.
He speaks truth to power.
He tenderly provides for his mother and his beloved friend.
And out of his thirst for life, it is he who declares his life ended:
“It is finished.”

There is no pretense here.
All is stripped bare and made vulnerable:
his body;
his identity as Son of God;
his refusal to retaliate;
his truth; his affection;
his thirst – all is surrendered.
Jesus, the preacher of parables, the weaver of wisdom,
the confounder of his critics,
Jesus is suddenly near silent
before those who falsely accuse and threaten violence upon him;
those who have authority to carry out and execute
precisely what they threaten.

What are we to make of this?

What Jesus reveals here is his powerlessness.
He surrenders himself when he’s arrested.
He chooses to stand powerless before those who accuse him.
He is powerless in the hands of those who haul him from venue to venue
on trumped up charges.
He stands powerless before those who mock him, strip him, strike him
and crown him with thorns.
He stands powerless before religious and political leaders.
and powerless before the crowds who call for his death.

To be sure: in each instance here Jesus is not without power.
Rather: he chooses to empty himself
of all the power and all the authority that is his
and he does so for us, for our sakes.

Jesus empties himself out for us
and takes upon himself the burden of our sins.

His near silence
before guards, the priests, the Pharisees and the governor
is eloquent testimony on his part of the truth of who he is.
He is the Lamb of God.
He is the paschal victim.
He is offering of the new covenant.
He is our PASSOVER and our lasting peace.
In his powerlessness, the power of God’s mercy flows upon us
as surely as blood and water flowed from the wound in Jesus’ side.

In Jesus’ powerlessness, in his being wounded on our behalf,
the healing of God’s mercy cauterizes the wounds our sins inflict
on him, on others and on ourselves.

In Jesus’ self-emptying,
as surely as he was raised up from the dead.
we are filled with the promise of fullness of life.

We are the followers of Jesus.
We follow the one who identified himself by his silence.
We follow the innocent one who rendered himself powerless
for the sake of the guilty.
We follow the powerless one who refused violence as his defense.
We follow the one whose powerlessness spoke truth to power.
We follow the one who, in his most powerless moment,
found strength to care for those he loved.
We follow the one whose emptiness and thirst
became the font of living waters for our salvation.

This night we celebrate the powerlessness of the Lamb of God,
emptied for us, surrendered for us, slain for us,
that the angel of death might PASS OVER us.

As followers of the crucified, we, too, must seek and find ways
to empty ourselves in service of our neighbor.
As followers of the crucified, we must speak truth to power.
As followers of the crucified,
we must refuse violence as the solution to conflict.
As followers of the crucified,
we must serve one another even to the end of our lives.

Christ our PASSOVER has been sacrificed!

Let us humbly approach the throne of the Cross
for we are powerless:
save for the mercy and grace of Jesus
who surrendered himself for us.


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