The Word Among Us

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Meditating on the Lord’s Passion

Speak, Lord, your servant listens!

By: Stephen J. Binz

Meditating on the Lord’s Passion: Speak, Lord, your servant listens! by Stephen J. Binz

As you observe Holy Week this year, try setting a crucifix, cross, or palm branch before you to help you focus on the Lord’s passion and death. Quiet your external and internal distractions, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you listen and respond to the words of Scripture this Holy Week.

As you observe Holy Week this year, try setting a crucifix, cross, or palm branch before you to help you focus on the Lord’s passion and death. Quiet your external and internal distractions, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you listen and respond to the words of Scripture this Holy Week.

As the Church gathers to proclaim the Passion of Jesus Christ during Holy Week, we hear the words of the Servant Songs of Isaiah (42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13–53:12). On Palm Sunday, as the Passion is proclaimed from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, we hear this third Servant Song, and on Good Friday, as the Passion from John’s Gospel is proclaimed, we listen to the fourth of the Servant Songs. These Servant texts have profoundly shaped the Church’s understanding of Jesus, and they find their fullest meaning in his suffering and death. Like Jesus, the Servant is beaten, spat upon, struck in the face, and persecuted for carrying out his divinely appointed mission.

Though God’s Servant is treated disgracefully, he says, "I am not disgraced" (Isaiah 50:7). He suffers insults and beating without receiving them internally. He does not lose his honor and is not put to shame because God is his help and strength. His persecutors may take his life, but they cannot destroy who he is. Though the humiliation inflicted upon him is real enough, it fails in its purpose. God’s Servant knows that in reality, he is the victor.

The key to the Servant’s strength and endurance is his attention to God’s word. Morning after morning he listens, and then his life becomes a proclamation. He internalizes God’s word; the word becomes flesh within him. He knows "how to speak to the weary" (Isaiah 50:4) because he speaks God’s word with his lips and especially with his life.

Motivated by God’s inspired prophet to internalize the word of God, prepare to listen and receive within you the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Read Luke 23:1-49.

In a scene unique to Luke’s Passion account, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem and tells them not to weep for him but for themselves and their children. For the Passion is not just the sad story of Jesus. It is, rather, a story of divine nobility, passionate love, steadfast courage, and unlimited forgiveness. The cross is the great intersection between divine goodness and human helplessness, in which God becomes vulnerable and humanity becomes strong. The real sadness is not the suffering of Jesus; it is the tragedy of human sin and the destruction it inflicts upon the world.

In another detail found only in Luke’s narrative, Jesus asks God to forgive his torturers. As he is nailed to the cross, in a remarkable expression of compassion, Jesus says, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). For those of us who find it next to impossible to imitate Jesus’ tremendous example of love, it is helpful to note that Jesus’ statement is a prayer. Whether or not Jesus was humanly ready to forgive, he prayed for his persecutors as an expression of love of enemies. When we are confronted with the challenge of forgiving unrepentant adversaries, we can turn to the prayer of Jesus on the cross. What may not come spontaneously from the human heart can be requested in prayer.

Luke’s Passion is also the only version to compare the responses of the two criminals crucified beside Jesus. While one joins in the mockery of the crowds, the other repents on the cross. First, the repentant criminal acknowledges his sins, admitting that he has been condemned justly and deserves punishment for his deeds. Then he turns to Jesus for help: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). The sinner calls on the name of Jesus, recognizing that in his death, Jesus is the source of his salvation. The repentant criminal receives salvation from Jesus without hesitation: "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (23:43). Jesus, the one who came "to seek and to save what was lost" (19:10), continued to welcome the outcast and the sinner until his final breath. Jesus died as he had lived, extending his saving mercy to all.

Just as God prepared his Servant for the word, God has opened your ears that you might hear, and you have heard with the ears of your heart. Now seek to assimilate these texts in all their depth so that you can respond to them with your life as you journey through this Holy Week.

Think about how it would be possible not to be disgraced and suffer shame when you are mistreated or humiliated by others, and what modern-day prophets embody this mindset of God’s Servant. Reread Luke’s passion account, and look for things he seems to especially emphasize about Jesus. Though our usual Holy Week liturgies focus on the solitary cross of Jesus, occasionally we are reminded that there were three crosses on Calvary. Ponder your relationship to the crucified Savior in light of that image. The repentant criminal can teach us much about the process of conversion, especially that it is never too late to turn over one’s life to Jesus Christ.

In Luke’s account, the final cry of Jesus from the cross is from Psalm 31. Speak or chant the words of this psalm as a prayerful response to God’s word.

You, O Lord, are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me. You will free me from the snare they set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, O Lord, O faithful God.

Continue to pray in your own words, seeking to imitate Jesus’ complete trust in the Father. And then spend some moments in silence, uniting your heart with the trust and confidence of Jesus. Slowly repeat the phrase "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

As you enter the Church’s most holy week, determine to follow Jesus on his journey to the cross so that you might experience the joy of his resurrection. Join with the Church’s liturgical rituals so that Christ’s paschal mystery may be present to you in all its saving power.

Adapted from an excerpt from Conversing with God in Lent by Stephen J. Binz. Available at wau.org/books

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