Matthew 26:35-40, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the just will ask him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we welcome you away from home, or clothe you in your nakedness? And when did we visit you when you were ill or in prison?” The King will answer them: “I assure you, as often as you did it to one of my least brothers, you did it for me.”
Who do you say I am? Every person who knows the name Jesus will answer that question. Those who turn their backs say, “You are no one to me.” Some espouse it verbally, some more subtly by their actions. Many are Christians who profess their faith in a loud voice for all to hear, and cry out, “Lord, Lord!” Yet, Jesus says, “I never knew you; go away from me you evildoers.” (Matt. 7:23) Jesus does not recognize those who say what they do not live. Every Christian must answer the question, “Who is Jesus,” and ultimately, “Who is the God revealed in Jesus?”
The two basic elements of Christology are the historical Jesus and the “living” Jesus. Neither can stand alone. We must understand the historical Jesus to ground belief in the “living” Jesus. Historically, Jesus was human; he was a Jew, a teacher, and a preacher of salvation. He was God Incarnate, bringing mercy, compassion, hope, and unconditional love to all humankind. He healed suffering and overcame sin. That is the truth of the “living” Christ in our midst.
So then, if Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God, who is God? Our human finite thinking cannot answer that question. Scripture says, “We are made in God’s image,” that conjures up a picture of a very very old grandfather. Even though the image we have of this grandfather may be loving and benevolent, it is woefully inadequate, because we can never know the essence of God. What we can know is what Jesus reveals as the Logos, the Word made flesh. Jesus as the Incarnation of God is the fullest expression of God’s own self. God is relentless, extravagant, merciful, indiscriminate, gratuitous, enduring, and grace-filled Love!
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was not for the purpose of atonement. Peter Abelard explains, “Since man could make no payment to God, and God need make no payment to the Devil, the purpose of the Incarnation could not be that of making any payment at all. It could only be an act of love.” The problem is, we cannot grasp that kind of Love. As mystery we worship it, yet God calls us to do more. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are made to share in the mystical life of the Triune God. We are called to respond to that Love, just as Jesus responded. We are called to “follow him.” What does it mean to truly “follow” Christ? What does it demand? How do we know we are not simply giving lip service to our confession of faith?
The suffering of the poor and marginalized among us is immoral. In the world’s wealthiest nation six-hundred thousand children should not go to bed hungry—but they do, every day. The stories of abuses of women in India, Asia, and Africa, are horrendous and inexcusable. How do we respond? How are we Christ to our brothers and sisters who are suffering right here in our midst? How do we join them in their struggle for a just society, a just world? Would we be admonished by Jeremiah today? “Your own apostasies are rebuking you.” (2:19)
So, let us take that walk with Jesus from the last supper to His Crucifixion and answer the question, “Who do you say I am?”
Jesus Institutes the Last Supper
Scripture: Matthew 26:26-29, “During the meal Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.“Take this and eat it,” he said, “this is my body.” Then he took a cup. Gave thanks, and gave it to them. “All of you must drink from it,” he said, “for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out in behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Luke 22:24, “A dispute arose among them about who should be regarded as the greatest.”
John 13:5, 14, “Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet.…” “But if I washed your feet—I who am Teacher and Lord—then you must wash each other’s feet.”
Meditation: As Jesus prepared himself and his disciples for his coming suffering and death, they were frightened and misunderstood his final and central teachings: The unblemished lamb was now the innocent Jesus; the blood on the signpost that would save the Israelites from death, was now Jesus’ blood that would give all humankind eternal life. God’s power would, paradoxically, be revealed through Jesus’ total surrender. Jesus did not come to take Caesar’s place; he came to take the place of sinners. He did not come to be served, but to serve.
Meaning Today: Jesus is always and everywhere among us. He invites us to respond to Christ’s stirrings within our very being. The purest and most perfect act of worship is to “do this in memory of me” and then go out into the world and do what he did for others. Central to what he did was to care for the poor, the outcast, the lost and rejected, with no regard for what others would ultimately do to him. “Do what you must,” his life would say, “I can only respond to you in love.”
Prayer: Who do I say you are Lord, when I forget you humbled yourself to wash my feet? Who do I say you are when I do not live my life as though your sacrifice meant something? May my life speak to the memory of God’s passionate love, revealed through you.
The Agony in the Garden
Scripture: Matthew 26:36-39, “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane. He said to them, ‘Stay here while I go over there and pray.’ He took along Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, and began to experience sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, ‘My heart is nearly broken with sorrow. Remain here and stay awake with me.’ He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Still, let it be as you would have it, not as I.'”
Meditation: Fear fueled the anger that turned the Jewish leaders against Jesus. Fear fed the disciples’ desperation and confusion. The scene was chaotic. Yet, in the middle of that chaos stood a silent and submissive Jesus. He was not submissive to the angry mob before him; they had no power over him. All the strength and courage his humanity would now require would be his through his relationship with his Father, the deepest source of his identity. Because we are made in the image of God, that same courage to submit to God’s will, that same identity, belongs to us.
Meaning Today: We are revealed in our relationships, how we accept or reject others, and how others react to us. Jesus was in the face of those who oppressed the least in God’s kingdom; that cost him his life. What are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of those the world rejects? Pride and arrogance blinded those who used their power to oppress others, where is our pride and arrogance revealed?
Prayer: Lord, to be countercultural is risky and uncomfortable. But, before I shake my finger at others, may I have the courage to stand in the mirror and shake it at myself. With a trembling heart and a longing to change, I ask you to reveal the truth to me. Show me where I have rejected others, and in doing so, have rejected you. Show me where my pride masks my indifference to those who suffer.
Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns
Scripture: Matthew 27:27-31, “The procurator’s soldiers took Jesus inside the praetorium and collected the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and wrapped him in a scarlet military cloak. Weaving a crown out of thorns they fixed it on his head, and stuck a reed in his right hand. Then they began to mock him by dropping to their knees before him, saying, ‘All hail, King of the Jews!’ They also spat at him. Afterward they took hold of the reed and kept striking him on the head. Finally, when they had finished making a fool of him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucifixion.”
Meditation: The question so often asked of Jesus’ suffering and death is “why?” Did Jesus have to suffer? Why did God allow it? Jesus’ obedience was not demanded by God as a price for our salvation. Jesus was the revelation of God. God is Love, and can be nothing other. Therefore, he could not return violence for violence. Certainly, he knew that would make him vulnerable. Being faithful to his mission, his suffering and death would be inevitable. It would be allowed by God, but it was not his will.
Meaning Today: Jesus’ suffering and death screams, “Stop the insanity!” Evil and violence perpetuate themselves over and over. That is how “original sin” affects us two-thousand years later. Adam and Eve may have started it, but every generation perpetuates it. At some point someone must respond as Jesus responded to end the cycle of violence we inflict on each other. We cannot, must not, excuse ourselves by pointing to others. We all must look deep within our own hearts as that is where violence begins.
Prayer: Lord, who do I say you are when I refuse to suffer, or accept the slightest inconvenience? We have the examples of victims throughout history who refused to enter into the violence of this world. Many have suffered for their convictions. We believe suffering shouldn’t happen. Jesus accepted, as we should, that suffering is part of human life. Peace was first offered by you on the cross, and is made available to us through you. Help me to strive for peace and justice no matter the cost.
Jesus is Condemned to Death
Scripture: John 19:13-16, “Pilate…brought Jesus outside and took a seat on a judge’s bench at the place called the Stone Pavement – Gabbatha in Hebrew. He said to the Jews, ‘Look at your king!’ At this they shouted, ‘Away with him! Crucify him.’
‘What!’ Pilate exclaimed, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The Chief priests replied, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ In the end, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified.”
Meditation: The oppressive and brutal nature of those in power in Jesus’ day was blatant. They truly believed they were God’s elect, his favored, and they could do no wrong. Jesus challenged that presumption at every turn. What began as someone who simply loved and cared for others, became an accusation of their sins. Jesus became dangerous and threatened the status quo. There was no alternative but to rid themselves of him to restore the peace they once knew.
Meaning Today: What lengths will we go to today to rid ourselves of those who make our lifestyle uncomfortable and remind us that we are not living up to the faith we profess? Untimely pregnancies, aging parents, that annoying homeless man on my street corner.
Prayer: Lord, forgive my indifference to the suffering all around me. When I neglect my brothers and sisters, I neglect you. I call upon your grace to change my heart that I may care for those you call me to serve.
Jesus Takes up His Cross
Scripture: John 19:16-17, “Jesus was led away, and carrying the cross by himself, went out to what is called the Place of the Skull.”
Meditation: What kind of love is this which allows such pain and suffering? Jesus’ cross bore the weight of our sins, yet he carried it alone. His heart should have been filled with hatred. God should have been shaking with anger, his will bent on revenge.
Humankind could understand and accept that response. It is more difficult for us to accept love and forgiveness as a response to violence. Christ, as the Incarnation of God, could do nothing else.
Meaning Today: What is the meaning of suffering? Why does God allow it? Meaning is not found in the suffering. Mark Heim says, “It is found in the grace of the transformation of that suffering.” As Christians we are called to be an instrument of God’s grace-filled love for a suffering world.
Prayer: What kind of Love is this that refuses to turn away from undeserving humanity? We balk at the slightest inconvenience while others suffer unimaginable pain. Lord, forgive us for saying we love you, while refusing to love our brothers and sisters.
Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother
Scripture: Luke 2:34-35, 51, “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.’ His mother meanwhile kept all these things in memory.”
Meditation: Mary, so afflicted by the torture her Son endured. Heart full of anguish. Eyes full of tears.Yet, when Jesus stood silent, she stood silent. When Jesus accepted his cross, she took up her own. When Jesus forgave, she forgave.With the same love of Christ, born in the same Love that brought him into this world, she submitted.
Meaning Today: We cannot conceive the pain and suffering inflicted on Jesus and his holy Mother, or the grace they received to submit to such suffering. They have shown us by their very lives how we are to respond to violence, and God has promised us the same grace to endure our afflictions.
Prayer: Lord, that I may obtain the grace that overflowed in the hearts of your Son, and his holy Mother, to love their persecutors and forgive those who exacted such unspeakable horrors on them both. My willingness to forgive those who have hurt me reveals who I say you are more powerfully than anything else I say or do in your name.
The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene
Scripture: Mark 15:21, “A man named Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was coming in from the fields, and they pressed him into service to carry the cross.”
Meditation: Surely Simon had heard about this Jesus, and could have thought him a troublemaker. Jesus infuriated the Jewish leaders; they had enough of him. Now Simon was being forced to help him carry his cross. Did he know he had just come face-to-face with the living God?
Meaning Today: When any human being is stripped of dignity, Jesus’ passion is repeated. We are made in the image of God, created anew by the resurrection, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We have a mandate to take that Good News to the world. If fear holds us back, it is grounded in the denial of who we are. Fear clings to the old self, refuses to relinquish control, and ties the hands of the Holy Spirit. God’s sacrificial love is meant for all, and I am to be an instrument of that love or my faith response is inadequate.
Prayer: Lord God of immutable Love, you allow no cross that you yourself have not carried. When we see others struggling with theirs, may we not turn away. Let the only thing that forces us to reach out be the Love that resides in the depth of our hearts.
Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
Scripture: Luke 23:27-31, “A great crowd of people followed him, including women who beat their breasts and lamented over him. Jesus turned to them and said: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Weep for yourselves and for your children.'”
Meditation: This was not the first encounter Jesus had with these women. He had a deep love and respect for them. These were women whose lives were changed because he broke all the social and religious rules that forbade such relationships. He impacted their lives and called them to discipleship, but he also knew they would suffer for their faith.
Meaning Today: It is insightful to realize the deep compassion Jesus had for women, and how that truth revealed in scripture gives power, courage, and hope today to women who continue to be the victims, like Jesus, of untold abuses. Many women are speaking out boldly (at the risk of their own lives, as many have been martyred), to draw attention to the injustices they and their sisters are suffering.
Prayer: Lord, you showed your deep love for all those who were made to feel unworthy of love. How often do I make others feel unworthy because of my refusal to acknowledge them as having the dignity all should be given because they are made in your image? How would I feel in their place? Lord, have mercy. May I never again cause violence or harm to another.
Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
Scripture: Matthew 27:35, “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”
Meditation: The Roman soldiers stripped Jesus of his clothing in one last attempt to put him to shame. They could strip him of his clothes, but not his dignity. They had no power over him.
Meaning Today: The world cannot strip the poor of their identity; it is grounded in God’s love. God is Abba to all of his children – all are beloved. This is what is most true about us; it is what we share with Christ.
Prayer: Lord, there is no pain or injustice I can suffer, that You, in your humanity, have not experienced. You know all the pain and humiliation we cause each other. Help me to draw so close to You that any indignity inflicted on my body cannot pierce my heart if it belongs to You.
Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Scripture: Luke 23:33-34, “When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’”
Meditation: In the Passion, Jesus was mocked, beaten, abandoned by his friends and God. Yet, despair was absent—forgiveness was his final word. This is where, Ignatius of Loyola says, “The divine hides itself.” The divine is permanently present in the human. Though Jesus endured the most unimaginable suffering, what is revealed in this moment is not despair, but hope!
Meaning Today: To forgive such horror—impossible! This is why we have such difficulty believing Jesus was fully human. It is easier to believe his humanity was simply humanlike. Jesus’ humanity confronts us with our sinfulness and our unwillingness to change. It refuses to allow us to divide people into categories of deserving and undeserving of our love and care.
Prayer: Lord, it is the violence within my own heart that keeps you nailed to the cross. You saw broken humanity with the heart and mind of God. You are now—just as you were then—the outward sign of inward grace. I have no justification for ignoring the cry of those who suffer. My hope is in this Love that forgives the unforgivable, and makes all things new.
Jesus Dies on the Cross
Scripture: Matthew 27:50-51, 54, “Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’”
Meditation: Throughout Jesus’ Passion God remained eerily silent. Jesus was mocked by those who were certain he was an impostor. “If you are the Son of God, why doesn’t he save you? Why don’t you just come down from that cross?” When “it was finished,” God’s heart exploded with the reality of his beloved Son’s death! The torn curtain, the earthquake, the rocks splitting! The eruption of Love’s broken heart. Slumped over on the Cross was humankind’s ultimate rejection of God’s ultimate Love; “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
Meaning Today: God was victim, God was rejected, God was cast out, and suffered at our hands. Though he persistently calls out to disturb our comfort with injustice, he refuses to violate our freedom to reject him, to the extreme of his own suffering.
Prayer: Radical Love, we dare not cling to false innocence when the Truth stands before us. Your essence Lord, is beyond our finite understanding, though your will is made clear through your Son, “Love as I have loved and forgive as I have forgiven, no matter the cost.”
Scripture: John 20:19-22, “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had net were locked for rear of the Jews Jesus came and stood among then and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”
Meditation: Before the resurrection, the disciples could only relate to Jesus as a human being. Their attempts to understand Jesus’ teachings were thwarted by human limitations. They could not grasp the depth and breadth of who God was until after the resurrection. Only after the resurrection, when humanity and divinity came together and erupted into their lives, could they comprehend this God Jesus called, “Abba.” Only then could they share in that relationship. Love as we know it is limited. Jesus revealed the gratuitous love of God. It is self-giving. The resurrection of his humanity allowed us to touch that Love. The indwelling of the Spirit of Jesus makes that Love eternally present within the heart of everyone of faith.
Meaning Today: This is the point where we must ask ourselves, “Does faith in Jesus orient my life?” If no less than God is present and active in Jesus, is the same true about us? And if so, does that not call for an immediate response? That Love can release our human potential beyond our imagining.
Prayer: Lord, the resurrection reveals forgiveness—undeserved, unimaginable, unconditional. May I know that forgiveness for my sins of indifference toward others, for my possessive attitude, and for my lack of compassion. May I see Jesus in every person I encounter, and be Jesus to the lost and forsaken.
“Who do you say I am?” is not an academic question. It will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge we may acquire. It is answered by our falling on our knees in awe and adoration. But it cannot stop there. Jesus never said, “Worship me”. He said, “Follow me.”
As a Christian I answer the question every time I give of myself for the sake of another, or conversely, care more for myself than my neighbor. How can I believe God loved me so much, so passionately, that he sent his only Son to suffer and die for me, and for every person I encounter, if I refuse to love them? If I say to Christ, “You are the living God,” that truth must be manifest in and through the way I live my life, or it is a lie. I am sure the next question Jesus will confront me with is, “Do you love me?”
How will my life answer that question?