The amount of Jesus’ suffering is not what is significant about Jesus’ passion. What is significant about Jesus’ suffering is how he faced that suffering.
This morning’s text begins in the garden of Gethsemane. Just prior to our text, Jesus is praying. It’s his prayer where we first see how he’s going to face the suffering. “For you all things are possible; remove this cup from me.” That’s a very human response. No one wants to suffer. Suffering in itself has nothing necessarily redemptive. Suffering brings pain and hurt, but there is nothing necessarily redemptive in the pain and hurt. In fact, it is Jesus who called folks hypocrites who made a show of their suffering for religious purposes. Jesus doesn’t desire the suffering that is coming his way. Like the rest of humanity would respond, Jesus begs God to make it so the suffering would go away.
And without even a breath, it seems, Jesus says, “Yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Here is the first way Jesus deals with suffering. While he does not want to face what lies ahead, he very much wants what God wants. Jesus understands that God has a bigger picture in mind, and that he is a vital part of that bigger picture. So, while his very human desire leads him to plead with God, it also leads him to trust in God’s ability to redeem any situation.
When we meet Jesus in the text today his passion has begun. Jesus suffers because of betrayal. The one he counted as friend and partner would turn on him. Whether its greed or passion for God that prompts him, Judas comes with a kiss and a crowd. It is not the swords and clubs of the crowd that brings the hurt. It is the kiss – the kiss of betrayal. This is how Jesus’ passion begins, with the betrayal of a close friend. For this he suffers greatly.
Jesus also suffers because of how they come after him. The authorities come at Jesus as if he is a violent criminal. The swords and clubs and crowd are big enough for siege. His is grabbed like a criminal, subdued in case he acts out. But this is never who Jesus was in his ministry, and they knew that. Jesus lived peaceably in his ministry. He said what was difficult and necessary, but he never resorted to any kind of aggression. He was never a part of the movements that sought a violent revolution for God, the Zealots. So for them to come at Jesus as if he was a violent criminal is beyond appropriate. He is a peaceable man, even in this time of suffering. When one of his own people wants to respond to evil with evil, grabbing a sword to meet the swords that came for Jesus, Jesus rebuke’s him. It is a peaceable solution that Jesus wants. It is the will of God that Jesus wants. And that does not involve matching evil for evil.
As humans in a broken world, we know suffering. We know suffering that comes unwarranted. We suffer from a disease and its effects, or a disaster comes into our lives. These are not the product of something we have done. Nor are they a part of God’s plan for our lives. These unwarranted sufferings come not do bring redemption to us, to somehow make us stronger or to test us. They come as pure suffering. And while redemption may come from them, they are not sent by God for redemption. Think Haitian earthquake. No one in Haiti deserved the suffering that came from the earthquake. They did nothing to provoke the earth to shake violently. That earthquake came unwarranted. And contrary to what some religious type folks will tell you, God did not bring on the earthquake for redemptive purposes, to somehow shake the unbelievers into belief. That earthquake is pure, unwarranted suffering.
We know suffering that comes provoked, too. Like when we take a stand for righteousness, we can incur another’s wrath and anger. And while we did not intend to provoke suffering, it comes none the less. Think Nelson Mandela. He stood up against legal segregation in his country. His stand for righteousness caused him suffering. He spent many years imprisoned, essentially for his stand.
Suffering is something that comes to us all.
How we meet that suffering is what can create redemption in the midst of pain.
In his suffering, Jesus shows us a way to meet our own suffering redemptively. Jesus met his suffering with prayer. He spent time with God. He sought not so much a way out of the suffering. He sought the strength of God in the midst of it. And he sought, more importantly, the will of God. In prayer God unfolded for Jesus God’s redeeming ways. Jesus met his suffering with courage. Not a passive acceptance of it, but a courage to face nobly the enemies who came after him. When they came with violence, he met them with goodness. He has this steady power that comes not from fighting back. His steadiness comes from his being deeply rooted in the goodness of God. Jesus’ courage is to bring good out of evil, rather than add to the suffering of the world.
It is a comfort to know that our God is no stranger to suffering. He paved the way to a redemptive response to suffering. He showed us how to meet it with courage. He demonstrated a desire to do the will of God in all things. He created good where only evil existed.
Our God, who is no stranger to suffering, journeys with us through our own suffering. When 9-11 happened, people asked “Where is God?” People wanted to know how folks could suffer so much if there really was a God. We worship a God who is no stranger to suffering. We worship a God who knows that suffering comes, even to those who have not provoked it. We worship a God who showed us how to redeem unprovoked suffering by our response to it. So that when people asked “Where is God?” we people who know the God who is no stranger to suffering could honestly answer, “Right there with you!” And then we prayed and acted out of a courage to do God’s will, to bring a goodness out of what was evil.
This Jesus who is no stranger to suffering has really just begun the suffering that will come. In this week ahead, this Passion Week, Jesus will suffer more than we can imagine. But the amount of Jesus’ suffering is not what is significant about Jesus’ passion. What is significant about Jesus’ suffering is how he faced that suffering with peace, with courage, with a desire for what God desires. Let us come into this passion, not to gawk at the suffering, but to experience the power to bring good out of evil. Amen.