The Passion of Christ

cross2Typically, when we hear the phrase, “The Passion of Christ,” we associate it with the suffering of Jesus during Holy Week. And certainly, this is right. But when I hear the term, my mind goes first to the great love of Christ which led Him to the cross.

When God grabbed hold of my fourteen year-old heart in a deeper way, He did it primarily by speaking to me through a passage in Hosea 11. A workbook I had from a retreat asked me to substitute my name for every place where the passage read Israel. Try it with your own name as you read along in this New Living Translation of the text:

“When [_______] was a child, I loved [her] and I called [my daughter] out of Egypt. But the more I called [_________] the further [she] went from me… . I myself taught [________] how to walk, leading [her] along by the hand. But [she] doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of [her]. I led [______] along with ropes of kindness and love. I lifted the yoke from [her] neck and I myself stooped to feed [her].

“But since [________] refuses to return to me… [her] enemies will crash through [her] gates. They will destroy [her], trapping [her] in [her] own evil plans. For [__________] is determined to desert me. [She] calls me the most High, but [she] doesn’t truly honor me.

“Oh, how can I give you up,[_________]? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you … or demolish you…? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. No, I will not unleash my fierce anger. I will not completely destroy [________], for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy.

“For someday [_________] will follow me. I, the Lord, will roar like a lion and when I roar, [_________] will return trembling from the west. Like a flock of birds, [_________] will come…. Trembling like doves, [________] will return…. And I will bring [her] home again, says the LORD.” (Hosea 11: 1-4, 6-11)

For the first time in my life, when I read these words I heard the passion of my God for me. I heard His tenderness for me, I heard my betrayal, I heard what I deserved, and I heard how He would not give me up. I could see Him like a lion on my trail, unwilling to relinquish His pursuit. I could hear in His haunting, “How can I give you up? How can I let you go?” the cry of a lover who would not let the beloved go. And His words melted me.

I did come to Him trembling. I came with prodigal hope. I came with a thirst for home, a true home with Christ.

Now, as I read about Christ weeping over Jerusalem, stumbling underneath the heavy burden of a wooden cross, flayed by whips, pierced by a mocking crown, and crying, “Father forgive,” as His lungs burned for air, I hear the haunting questions of Hosea. “How can I give you up? How can I let you go?”

To me, His suffering and His passion for His bride—the Church, will always go hand in hand. He suffered because His love compelled Him not to turn back. He suffered because He wants us. He desires to be in relationship with us. He created us, He nurtured us, and He will not bear to let us go. But we must come.

We must hear the roar of His great love for us, and turn. We must hear of what we in our sin deserve, and see what in His grace He has bought us, and come running back to Him.

Does His love make you tremble? Does it make you come running? It should: no love has ever been as strong. No love has ever gone to such great lengths. This is not a love to be taken lightly.

Resolute: Responding Well to Life’s Interruptions

Before I had children I heard it said that the hardest part about being a mother was seeing your heart go walking around outside your body. There’s a lot of truth to that. To love someone so much and yet for that little one to be independent and autonomous from you, capable of making their own decisions and mistakes, is something that I know must only get harder as the years pass. But if seeing your heart go walking around outside your body is difficult, perhaps an equally difficult aspect to motherhood is seeing your flaws go walking around outside your body.

At least once a day, I ask my little guy to do something and he refuses to respond right away because he is focused on a task and he must complete it. Perhaps I’ve asked him to come and get his shoes on and he is adamant he will not until his tower is completed. Perhaps I’ve asked him to come to the dinner table and he is adamant that he will not because he is not finished moving all his matchbox cars from their box to the window sill. Now the fact that I get irritated with him over this is ironic because mommy is absolutely hard-wired the same way. I am focused, determined, and resolute. And unfortunately, that can also make me stubborn, oblivious and sometimes impervious to a change in course. They say our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses—double-edged swords wielded correctly they show our prowess, wielded incorrectly they expose our failings. The hard part of my job will be to teach my little guy to master this sword, this one I also so often fall on.

I’ve been thinking of this resolute trait this Lenten season as I think about Jesus moving toward the day of his death and as I continue thinking about what it means to pay attention and be available. Luke’s Gospel records these words for us: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 NIV, ital. mine). In the NKJV, it says He “set his face toward Jerusalem.” The wording signifies a direct knowledge of what was to come (the cross, his sacrifice) and a direct and resolute turning toward that end point.

I don’t know what it must be like to know your death is imminent. I don’t know what it is like to know that pain beyond what any mind can imagine is just around the corner. I don’t know what it is like to know with certainty that you will face the greatest separation of all: separation from God. But I can only imagine that if I knew with certainty that such events were coming my way, that my mind would not be focused on the needs of others, but preoccupied with my own troubles. And yet Jesus gives us a far different picture.

Immediately after the Scriptures tell us that Jesus set His face toward Jerusalem, it tells us that He sent messengers before Him to Samaria. He knows the cross is coming and yet His mission remains one of mercy…of sharing the Good News with those both far and near. A few chapters later, we see this resolute Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, wishing that He could gather them into His arms like a mother hen (Luke 13:31-35).

As Christ gets closer to the cross, as His own pain intensifies, the Gospel of Luke alone records for us some of the more tender moments of mercy in the midst of His own unimaginable pain. In His hour of gravest need, at a time when no one would blame Him for being completely self-focused, He still continues to minister to those around Him. In Luke 23:27-29, some women are following Jesus on His way to the cross, weeping and wailing for Him. He turns his compassion back on them, however. Luke alone records, Jesus’ famous words from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (23:34) as well as the conversation between Jesus and the repentant thief on the cross next to Him, whom He comforts with the words, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (23:43). Jesus has an eye to minister to others even in the midst of his pain. Though He was focused and resolute, He welcomed opportunities to be “interrupted.” Or perhaps, more accurately, with His focus on the cross, the ultimate act of mercy, He could be free to show mercy along the way.

As focused as I am, I know this is something I need to work on and teach my children about also. If our ultimate goal in life is mercy, we won’t mind being interrupted to show mercy. If our ultimate goals are kingdom goals, we won’t mind being interrupted by kingdom opportunities. But if we are busy building our own kingdoms, busy gratifying our own egos, busy focused on any goal that has lost its ultimate point of giving glory to God, we will be irked at being interrupted.

So whether you are in the midst of something painful in your life or something just mind-consuming, or if you are just a task-oriented person like myself, ask God to give you spiritual eyes today like those of Jesus, to look past your own situation or goals to the needs of others. By His grace, be resolute to be merciful. By His grace, be resolute to put the needs of others before yourself.

How do you do when you are interrupted? Do you respond graciously? When you are in the midst of pain or hardship, do you become myopic–unable to see past your own pain to the needs of others? How does Jesus’ example compel you to be different?

Too Busy to Care: Faith is What Happens in the Alley

faithinthealleyThe Princeton seminary students poured over their notes. The professor had asked some of them to prepare a sermon on Luke 10:25-37, The Parable of the Good Samaritan, and others to give a talk on a more neutral subject, jobs which seminary students would be well-equipped to pursue after graduation. They would each be asked to go to another building separated by an alleyway to have their sermons or talks recorded, and ostensibly graded. Approximately every fifteen minutes one of them was tapped on the shoulder and told it was his or her turn to go. Some were told that the assistant was waiting for them and they must hurry, others were told to go right over, while others were told that they could go ahead, but that it would still be some time before they were to present. Little did any of them know that the real test was planned for the alley.

In the backstreet, each seminary student encountered a man slumped over, head down, coughing, and groaning. Was he in pain? Was he drunk or high? Did he need help?

Now think for a moment about what you would do. Would you go over and inquire knowing that you’d likely be late for your examination? Or would you avert your eyes and hurry along to the examination room—justifying in your head along the way that you’d certainly check on him on the way back? And now ask yourself which was the test that really mattered?

It’s ironic that in Jesus’ parable it was a priest and a Levite who passed by the wounded and beaten man—in effect it was the seminarians who clung to the other side of the road and kept their eyes on the destination and not the moment at hand.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise us then that of those seminary students, preparing for the ministry, half of whom were actually preparing that morning to preach on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, 60% of them did not stop or inquire if the man in distress was okay. They walked right by. They refused to be Jesus’ hands and feet that day to a man in apparent trouble. They showed up for class having already failed the real test.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, this was a research study and oddly enough there was only one thing that made a difference in the seminarian’s likelihood to stop and help. Those who preached on the biblical text were no more likely to help. Those who indicated in surveys a higher degree of commitment and faith were no more likely to help. The only factor that made any difference at all in the likelihood of students to stop and help was whether or not they perceived they were in a hurry. Those who were rushing could not be bothered by a man in pain.

Since reading about the Darley and Batson study several years ago, it has often come to mind. Am I too busy to care? Am I too rushed to be bothered by another person’s pain? Do I have enough margin in my life to see and respond to pain in the perimeter? These are good questions to ask. If there is not enough margin in our lives, perhaps, just perhaps we’ve already been set up to fail life’s real test. (Mt. 25: 42-45)

In the book, Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman where I first read about the Darley/Barton study, Goleman goes on to comment: “Of the many factors that are in play in altruism, a critical one seems to be simply taking the time to pay attention: our empathy is strongest when we fully focus on someone….” Goleman goes on to point out various studies which show the degree to which we are able to feel another’s pain or joy is largely determined by the degree to which we are engaged with our eyes. As we see another’s face twist in turmoil, we feel it in our own stomachs. As we see another’s lips dawning with joy, we are more likely to feel it in our own hearts.

And so as I continue to think about what it means to be present with others, two questions linger. Am I too busy to see the opportunities in front of me? And am I spending time with people often enough face-to-face (not face to Facebook or email or phone) to really engage my heart in the joys and pains of others?

Perhaps, life’s real tests are not where we are expecting them. True faith is tested in the alley.

(Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior”. JPSP, 1973, 27, 100-108.)

Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ, Bantam Books, 2005.


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