HOMILY – TUESDAY of HOLY WEEK
Redemptive Suffering and Brokenness
(Is 49:1-6; Ps 71; Jn 13:21-33. 36-38)
As a young seminarian, my spiritual director was Fr. Adam Exner, who eventually became an archbishop. After hearing my story (the first one to ever do so), Exner observed that I needed to work on my relationship with my father, then asked me to pray with Is 43:1-4, and that passage only, for a whole month.
That passage spoke to me like no other passage had to that point, and profoundly affected my life. As a workaholic, I had tried to earn my father’s love over the years (and now I realize, indirectly God’s love as well). When I read the words in that passage that I was precious and honoured in God’s sight because God loved me (and not because of anything I had done), something shifted inside of me. God’s love became a gift freely given, not earned. My spirit was set free to soar like an eagle into the arms of a loving God. The first reading today started to be fulfilled in me that day – I was now becoming a light to the nations, able to spread the Good News that God’s love is freely given and does not need to be earned.
Turning to the Gospel, we see that the passion of Jesus has already begun. Judas, who will betray him, takes the bread and sets out to do so. Peter, who will deny Jesus, promises to do just the opposite. And we know that a short while after Jesus spoke these words he was arrested by the religious authorities. All the disciples ran away and abandoned him out of fear for their own lives.
These three realities – betrayal, denial and abandonment – underline the deepest suffering of Jesus during what we call his “passion” or more accurately, his “passivity.” The Latin word is passio, which means “being done unto” so everything was done to him. It was not the physical suffering he would endure that pained him the most. It was the fact that during these last hours on earth, he would be alone. He would have to face death and make the moral decision to be faithful to the Father’s will, alone. He would indeed, be a stone’s throw away from anyone. That, more than the physical suffering, was truly his “passion” or passio.
In doing so, Jesus sets an example for us. There will come a time in our lives when we will enter our own passivity as well; we will suffer in a way that no one else can really understand or appreciate. Our pain is really only our pain. The greatest suffering will be our own death, and there we will be alone. Even with people holding our hand, we will be a stone’s throw away from anyone.
The challenge for us is to go through our suffering the way Jesus did – without bitterness or resentment, forgiving all those who have hurt us or are hurting us in any way. In this way, our suffering connects with the suffering of Jesus and becomes redemptive.
There is another important element in the gospel. When Judas takes the bread and immediately went out, the Gospel adds: “it was dark.” This symbolizes that Judas stepped out of the circle of those who understand the mystery of the Kingdom of God, which is the value of the brokenness of Jesus on the Cross. That mystery of growth and freedom coming not from power and control, but out of failure, weakness and brokenness, lived out by a suffering Messiah, was what Judas could not understand or accept, and for that reason he betrayed Jesus.
Those who perhaps best understand this mystery of brokenness are members of A.A., who at every meeting begin by stating their name and professing they are alcoholics, powerless over that chemical in their lives. In their shared brokenness, they find daily sobriety and serenity.
The Eucharist is a gift coming to us through the brokenness of Jesus on the Cross, symbol of God’s great love for us, who wants to forgive and heal us, and make us a light to the nations, proclaiming the mystery of the Kingdom – that it is through humility and powerlessness that we access the power of love to heal our broken world.