Up to now we have been comforted by the luminous aspects of the Paschal Mystery. But we must pursue our meditation into the dark side of the Redemption, because this is a darkness we all carry within us. We must glimpse into the abyss of suffering into which our Lord Jesus was plunged in the hours that led him into the desolation of abandonment by the Father and, ultimately, to a horrendous death. In the days of his Passion, Jesus, obeying the will of the Father, willingly and even joyously (Heb 12:2) entered into what Paul calls “the mystery of iniquity” (2 Thes 2:7). Fully aware of what was involved, and with full consent of heart and will, Jesus handed himself over into the hands of sinners, to be treated by them as they pleased.
But who are these “sinners” into whose hands Jesus so willingly hands himself? Ourselves, of course. And yet Jesus sits at our table and eats with us, scandalizing the Pharisees. He surrenders himself into our sinful hands just as literally as the fact that we today receive his Body as bread in our hands and drink his outpoured Blood as wine. ‘When you did not have mercy on one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not have mercy on me’, the all-knowing King says to us at the Last Judgment (cf. Mt 25:31-46). How could we forget this painful truth? Jesus knew who we were; he knew what we would do with him; and yet he still surrendered himself totally into our hands. If we are ever tempted to view Jesus’ Passion and Death as merely the regrettable failure of an otherwise admirable mission, then we should read the Gospels carefully again. There we would see clearly the dazzling light of an ardent love, a light that blinds our natural logic with the divine truth that precisely surrendering into the hands of sinners who he knew would kill him was the strategy of divine love to redeem the world. “For our sake [the Father] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). “We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son while we were [his] enemies” (Rom 5:10). What an incredible exchange!
Don’t such declarations make us gasp? Consider the depth of the mystery of divine love: On the one hand, God cannot be God without being from all eternity the Father of his only Son, his beloved Jesus Christ. At the very same time, however, God did not love the One by whose sonship he is God more than us, his creatures! Paul’s words above declare this wonderful, terrible truth: God did not spare his own Son but made him to be sin for our sake. For us to be liberated from the death of sin, the Father deemed it necessary that his innocent Son should become sin, that which is most abhorrent to God! Christ, the All-Holy One, became sin by taking up into his person the full consequence of our sins, namely, death. The very God who would not allow Abraham to kill his beloved son Isaac “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all”! The all-powerful King exchanged his dignity for that of the condemned slave. The greatest truths are always unbelievable, and that’s precisely why we have to believe them.
Image from the series of prints known as the Miserere by Georges Rouault (1871-1958). Meditation by Father Simeon.