Thinking Anew – The Passion of the Christ

Jesus forged for humankind the way of peace

Passiontide . . . and the tide does indeed turn for Jesus, not suddenly or unexpectedly, but relentlessly. Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, against everyone's sound advice.

He has been warned that he shouldn’t show his face there because there have been death threats against him.

Yet he enters the city, not discreetly but to a cheering crowd, carried by a humble beast of burden whose back forever bears the sign of the cross.

Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, the city of God which for the Jewish people is traditionally the meeting place between heaven and earth.


His arrival is planned.

Jesus is aware of the significance of his riding on a donkey, of the resonance of the prophecy proclaimed by Zechariah 500 years earlier: “Rejoice greatly, daughter Zion! Shout, daughter Jerusalem! See, your King comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey”.

Jesus knew what he was doing, and the crowds instinctively recognise him as their Prince of Peace, singing over him words from the Psalms,”Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”.

As Jesus approaches the beautiful, beloved city of his people, he weeps. He weeps because he knows the horrors that lie ahead for that place. If only things were different, what a beautiful world it would be. “If you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace!”

He has set his face towards Jerusalem and he knows he is crossing a line from which there is no return.

The passion of Christ. “Passion” has a meaning quite distinct from how the word is otherwise understood, a meaning now obsolete other than when connected to the events of Holy Week.

I used to assume that the passion of Christ referred to the depth of the love Jesus had for us, as he faced death.

But the word passion has quite different roots, in the Latin verb “passior”, meaning to be done to, to be acted upon, to suffer; a word connected to “passive” and “patient”.

The passion of Christ refers to the transition of Jesus from being a person of agency to a person who has yielded all power.

From his baptism in the river Jordan to his boisterous entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, Jesus has been a person of drive and holy initiative, full of grace and truth, warmth and wisdom, humour and sarcasm.Jesus is as willing to speak truth to power as he is to loiter in the hot noon sun with a disreputable local woman.

He has been following steadfastly what he saw his Father doing, healing, teaching, feeding, exorcising, storytelling, mentoring and team-building.

Yet from the moment that Judas identifies him with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemene and hands him over to the Romans, Jesus transitions – intentionally – from a man who asserts himself to a man who puts himself at the mercy of others.

From now on, almost all the verbs in the gospel accounts are passive: Jesus is seized, brought, accused, spat upon, scourged, mocked, sentenced, nailed, labelled.

When asked to defend himself, he will not.

Marilynne Robinson wrote, “Nothing true can be said about God from a posture of defence”.

Jesus – the word of God – modelled this in his own body. He chose to yield to the worst that could be done to him by those whom he had made. He chose not to defend himself; rather, in the words of the Eucharistic prayer, he “opened his arms of love upon the cross”.

He renounced power, and in doing this he has forged for humankind the way of peace, a path that is even now still open to us, if only we will take it.