“My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.” – Mt 26:38
It is difficult for those of us familiar with the Passion of Jesus to encounter it as a love story. Yet, with imagination, we might approach its radical meaning. Suppose that you and I belong to a tribe deep in a jungle of Africa, Asia, or South America without any contact to the outside world. Imagine hearing the Passion proclaimed. We would think that it is completely crazy, wacko, muy loca! Why would anyone celebrate such a tragic failure of a traveling preacher who was publicly executed in a most horrifying way? Completely crazy!
From an outside perspective, Jesus’ passion is absurd. Yet, from a believer’s inside perspective, it is very different. Through the eyes of faith, his passion is a moving sacrifice, an incredible act of love, a gesture of self-giving friendship that our hearts cannot remain neutral or untouched.
This past Monday, Fr. Frans van der Lugt SJ, one of my Dutch brother Jesuits was martyred in Syria. He is one of 150,000 people killed in the Syrian civil war. Yet, his killing struck a chord, because he chose voluntarily not to evacuate the Old City of Homs. Rather, he wanted to share the plight of the Syrian people, Muslims and Christians alike, especially the mentally handicapped. He wrote: “The Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties.” Living and serving in Syria for 48 years, he was considered a kind of holy puzzle by many Syrians – a Dutchman who learned to love Syria perhaps more than they themselves. He was a man of peace who was dragged out of his house and shot twice in the head.
Grieving the death of this brother Jesuit helps me to get in touch with the martyrdom of Jesus. Similarly, Jesus chose to share our plight, especially the suffering. He was a man of peace, a holy puzzle, who cared deeply, who was executed. Two similar passions. Two similar love stories.
Jesus’ Passion or Holy Week cannot be experienced as outsiders. It would be absurd. Yet, when we enter the suffering of anyone around us, including ourselves, his Passion becomes more real. So would the radical love God has for us.
This week, let us allow ourselves to be drawn close to the poor, needy, marginalized, or afflicted. Consider learning about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, how the persecution has increased in the past year, and how religious violence worldwide has reached new highs.
Lord Jesus, help me this week to be united with you in my suffering and in solidarity with those who suffer.