Handing Ourselves Over

crosswButterfliesLuke’s version of Jesus’ Resurrection is much the gentlest among the synoptic Gospels. No earthquakes and no women running off so afraid that they can tell nobody what they had seen at the empty tomb. The women were, indeed, terrified of the two men in “dazzling clothes” who appeared to them. But by the time, but before long they have remembered, with prompting from the men in white, Jesus’ words to them.

Among the words the women were reminded of was that “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified.” (Lk. 24:7) The key word is that Jesus was “handed over.” Jesus was put into the power of the sinners. However, something much deeper had happened than that. If we look back to Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane, Jesus struggled with the fear that his ministry had come to nothing, but then he handed himself over to his heavenly Abba. (See Gethsemane) It was only after handing himself over to his Abba that he allowed himself to be handed over into the power of sinners.

The death of Jesus is also portrayed more gently in Luke than in Mark or Matthew. Luke does not include Jesus’ anguished cry: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” although Jesus did cry out in a loud voice. What he then said was: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk. 24: 46) At the last, Jesus in handing himself over to sinners, had really handled himself over to his heavenly Abba. The words, in themselves, seem serene, but, in Gethsemane, where Jesus made his decision to hand himself over, his stress was so great that his sweat became “like drops of blood.” Commending himself to his Abba was not easy.

On Easter morning, Jesus found himself alive because he did not try to grab his life with force, but rather, Jesus had given it up. Grabbing his own life with force would have entailed using force to lead an insurrection against the Roman Empire. In doing so, he could, for a time have thought that his ministry had come to something after all. But by trying to make his life secure, he would have lost it. (Lk. 17: 33) In receiving his life from his heavenly Abba, Jesus had the Abba’s life to give to all. This is why it was futile for the women to look for the living among the dead. (Lk. 24: 5) Jesus, very much alive, was not there. He was among the living, walking on the Road to Emmaus, seeking to make Cleopas and his companion more alive than they were, so that their hearts would burn as Jesus explained the scriptures to them. If Jesus had not given up his life to gain it, he would not have had such overflowing life to give to others.

We too, are called to hand ourselves over to Jesus’ heavenly Abba. As our world grows more violent, we are tempted to do something rather than hand ourselves over to our Abba, but doing something in violent situations tends to keep them violent. Instead, we need to create space for the heavenly Abba to give us the life He gave to His own Son. In this way, we participate in Jesus’s death and in his glorious Resurrection.

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Gethsemane

crossRedVeil1Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane may well have been the loneliest moment of all for Jesus. His disciples were not able to stay awake with him. Much worse, his disciples still seem not to have understood anything of what Jesus had tried to teach them. At what he knew would be his last meal with his disciples, a meal when he had poured himself into the bread and wine to give his life to his disciples and all others who would follow him, his disciples fought yet again about who was the greatest. (Lk. 22:24–26) As he had done many times before, he told his disciples that the one who would be first would be the one who served, but he must have realized his words had had the same effect as before.

Jesus was alone with his heavenly Abba, but he was having difficulty believing that the path leading to the cross was going to accomplish anything. Jesus prayed that the cup he knew he must drink be taken away from him. Many think Jesus was shrinking from the pain of crucifixion. He probably was, but his anguish went much deeper. Jeffrey B. Gibson, in his book The Temptations of Jesus in Early Christianity, suggests that Jesus was tempted to opt for the restoration of Israel by dominance. It was the same temptation he suffered when he called Peter “Satan” at Caesarea Phillippi, and the same temptation he suffered in the desert right after his baptism. As he prayed in the garden, it appeared to Jesus that his whole ministry had come to nothing and that “the path of suffering will really be effective in achieving the task to which he has been commissioned.Like us, Jesus felt the pull of the mimetic spiral of violence. It was hard enough that the pull of violence was strong throughout his entire social ambience. It must have been doubly hard that his disciples were still within that social pull of violence and were pulling Jesus in that direction as well. Worst of all, the full wrath of humanity’s rejection of God from the beginning of time had fallen upon Jesus and there seemed to be no way for that human wrath to be quenched. That Jesus accepted the cup anyway shows a profound trust in his heavenly Abba at a time when his Abba’s will was inscrutable to him. It seemed impossible to believe that the heavenly Abba loved Jesus, his Son, and loved all of the people Jesus had come to save, all of whom had turned against him. Impossible, yes, but with God, even these thing s were possible.

A Strange Glory

Dietrich_BonhoefferPassiontide is an appropriate time to reflect on the life and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Charles Marsh’s book A Strange Glory is a great resource for this.

This beautifully-written book is as gripping as a novel in the way it brings the reader inside a man who was a precocious and amiable spoiled brat for much of his life, but then shunned the safety & comforts of New York to serve his stricken country and was hanged after spending roughly two years in a Gestapo prison.

This book has gained some notoriety for “exposing” Bonhoeffer’s homosexuality. The intense passion that Marsh finds in B.’s letters to Eberhard Bethge seem likely to be strengthened by sexual passion. Bethge himself shows only friendship in return. At the time when he was directing the underground seminary in Finkelwalde, at which time B. met Bethge, we can see the combination of intellectual brilliance and serious emotional immaturity on the part of B. that led to a crush on his student. Marsh is convinced that this relationship never reached sexual activity.

B. was among very few theologians who saw through the distortions of Nazism. In Marsh’s account, I see the roots of that from B.’s critical stance to his theological inheritance that co-existed with respect for his mentors such as Harnack. His very first academic thesis criticized the role of Hegelian idealism in the German theology of his time. B. was mentored by Karl Barth, who, although the greatest theologian of his generation, was shunned by the German establishment. B. did not become a Barthian either, though. B. continued to work at diagonals to the adademic establishment. A year in the US, at which time he worshiped at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem seems to have alerted B. to the dynamics of persecution in his own country. As Hitler pressured the Evangelical Church of Germany to fall in line with Nazi principles, it was an obscure professor with no paying position to speak of, who became the most significant protesting voice.

The greatest enigma about B. is how a pacifist theologian could participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Marsh proves the matter deeply and shows that the matter is highly ambiguous. B.’s work for the resistance consisted of diplomatic outreach to the WCC & Anglican bishops in what turned out to be a vain hope for support from the allies for the Resistance. As for the matter of assassination of Hitler, B. seems never to have resolved in his mind whether or not it was the right thing to do.