Love is often portrayed in our culture as an overwhelming fascination attended by a romantic glow. It’s largely rooted in the feelings.
Indeed, human love can activate such emotions, but genuine love can also be costly: A mother cares without complaint for a disabled child month after month to the point of exhaustion. That is noble, suffering love.
During Holy Week, we celebrate love, but in this case God’s love — a love for his fallen creatures of such imponderable magnitude that his Son, Jesus, was willing to suffer and die on our behalf.
God’s Son came to earth in human form for that very purpose. So while Jesus healed the afflicted, fed the hungry, and blessed the children, he came for more than to express compassion and comfort.
A deeper look into the Gospel accounts shows that the Incarnate Christ knew that his love would lead him into suffering. The willingness to suffer would be one way of showing love.
I became aware of this insight many years ago when Luke 9:51 seemed to stand out from the page. It says, As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
Resolutely. That was the word that held my attention. Could it mean he didn’t want to go but knew he must do so to carry out a divine plan?
Back then I was also surprised by how early in Luke’s account the sentence appears. The Gospel according to Luke is divided into 24 chapters, but already in chapter nine Luke reported that Jesus knew what was ahead and that he anticipated suffering.
Jesus had not come merely to heal the afflicted, and teach the masses about his kingdom. He had come to suffer a death that would be for others.
He must have known that the religious rulers in Jerusalem would plot his death, the throngs for Passover would be easily turned against him, his own followers would flee, and Roman soldiers would be called upon to hang him on a cross to torture him in his dying. Yet he went forward resolutely.
Much happened as Jesus made that determined journey toward Jerusalem. It was after he fed the five thousand miraculously that Peter declared him “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:18-20).
Jesus follows Peter’s confession with clear words to his disciples about what was ahead: The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (Luke 9:22).
Could anything have been clearer? Still, his disciples failed to understand that for this great teacher and miracle worker love would mean suffering and that would require deep resolve.
During the same period of time he must have felt the need to bring the matter up to his disciples again because on another occasion he said: Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men (Luke 9:44).
There is a sobering and maturing word in all this. We too, as Christians, may fall into the trap of thinking of the love we profess only in brighter and more airy terms. It’s great to be a Christian!
And so it is. But Holy Week should remind us we are also called to be resolute in facing the tests, the adversities and the unexpected surprises of the journey. We are called to be true to our commitments even when our situation is adverse and undeserved.