As I read today’s Gospel lesson I was struck once again by how vulnerable Jesus is. “My soul is troubled,” he says, and he wonders whether he should ask his Father to save him from this hour. But it is this hour for which he has come — both to Jerusalem and to his incarnation as a human being.
For me, one of the hardest things about the Holy Week observance is the constant reminder of this vulnerability of Jesus. He isn’t protected at ALL. He is beaten, humiliated, tortured and killed. “Like a lamb to the slaughter,” we say. And it is the bald truth.
It’s upsetting because I personally would like to be LESS vulnerable. Since Holy Week last year, I have spent a lot of time facing my mortality. And like so many others, my life has been altered drastically. I’d like to be able to say that the disastrous changes are over for awhile, that we can get back to some sort of normalcy — or at least safety. But that’s not really in the cards.
To be alive is to be vulnerable. There are thousands of things that can maim or destroy living beings. So much can go wrong for any of us at any moment. Our lives can be forever altered by something as simple and ordinary as stepping into the street in front of our homes.
Furthermore, the very act of becoming is quite risky. Physical birth involves the ripping open of cells to implant genetic information and create something brand new. And then there is the uncertainty of gestation followed by the tearing open of the womb to bring the new creation into the world. Spiritual birth involves the destruction of cherished values or concepts in order that new understanding can emerge. It’s a process laced with sorrow and sometimes terror. The old community must sometimes be abandoned, the old attachments shattered. Most difficult — images of God must be cast aside.
Finally, emotionally, to be healthy, we have to be vulnerable. To love is to be vulnerable. That which we cherish will lacerate our hearts.
God, God’s very self is vulnerable. How else can God be loving? How else can God create? The being who made stars and galaxies and the planets in their courses is woundable by each of us.
So, as a follower of Jesus I am doomed to be, again and again, that little seed that falls into the ground and dies. As I open myself to the stranger, to all the oppressed, and to the ways humans are changing the planet, my self-understanding will need to be reformed again and again. Am I a racist? No. Well, yes, actually. Am I consuming too much of the earth’s resources? No. Well, actually, yes. And so forth, over and over.
There is the mystery of Holy Week — the mystery of life — and the mystery of my own becoming who I most profoundly am.
Image: Ecce Homo – Caravaggio, 1605