World (Humiliation) and God (Exultation)
14 April 2019 – Palm/ Passion Sunday
In no place in the passion according to Luke, as set forth in our lectionaries, do we even come close to getting a clue as to why some authorities in Jesus’ day wanted him out of the way, or put down, or merely hung out to dry. The gospels (Luke included) routinely offer exaggerated impressions of sizeable crowds and high drama in the events leading up to the cross. This exaggeration is to be expected. The authors are convinced that the death of this man had cosmic significance. If that significance had not been apparent to the immediate witnesses, why should the Christians of the evangelists’ communities recognize this either? Instead, the far more realistic image is of a small man, from an insignificant part of the nation, with a small group of followers, caught up in a conflagration and put down because of it with no thought or hesitation on the part of the Roman occupation forces. In no way does the more realistic image necessarily subtract from the cosmic and atoning significance of Jesus’ death.
A more modest account of the passion allows us to appreciate the incredible interpretive task undertaken by the earliest communities of Christians. The audacity of reading their scriptures as having been fulfilled in the life and death of this man! The audacity of God in using the death of this man to teach humanity the impotence and utter vacuousness of scapegoating and sacrifice!
If we allow ourselves to reinterpret the passion with Pauline eyes this is even more profound: the kenosis (outpouring) of God in Christ extends not only to his humanness and fleshly nature. It extends even to his social state and his national identity and to his place within the history of his people who are about to reach their arguably lowest point since the exile within a century of his death, to some extent within the lifespan of the evangelist himself. –– Jeffrey VanderWilt
From the earliest period, Christians have applied these passages to their understanding and interpretation of Jesus and his death. . . [see] Acts 8:32–35 and . . . 1 Peter 2:22. A . . . pre-Christological interpretation, would understand the suffering servant as a corporate figure: the entire, persecuted Jewish community, elected by God but turned from God, bruised and battered, now standing in the place of the entire world before God.
. . . Christians found this . . . story of the servant of God who suffers, strongly and compellingly attractive as they tried to put together the pieces of the story of Jesus of Nazareth, the healing rabbi, who proclaimed the restoration of the kingdom of God, and yet who suffered and died so grievously so that, when his fortune was reversed in resurrection, the nations would turn and glorify the God who saved Jesus. –– Jeffrey VanderWilt
The pattern of humiliation followed by exaltation parallels the one found in Isaiah’s servant songs: the humiliation is the result of a free choice on the part of an obedient servant; the glorification is the result of a free choice on the part of God who would use the exaltation of the obedient servant to attract all people to worship. . . –– Jeffrey VanderWilt
Jeffrey VanderWilt, author of Communion with Non-Catholic Christians (Collegville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003) teaches at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Southern California.
Homily Service 40, no. 5 (2007): 3-20.