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A dolorous and glorious journey
The passion narrative is the climax of each gospel account. It speaks for itself. Let us talk about the particularity of the Passion according to John. The distinction between “Narrative time” and “Narration time” is very helpful in this regard. Narrative time is measured in days, months and years whereas narration time is measured in sentences, lines and pages. It is the material time necessary to tell a story. Narrative time is shorter than narration time when we relate a small event with many details. Narration time is shorter than narrative time when we tell the whole story of our life in a few words.
In John’s Gospel, the first twelve chapters talk about the ministry of Jesus between Galilee and Jerusalem, which covered three years. The last nine chapters talk about passion week and the appearances of the Risen Lord. With the passion narrative, everything slows down. By his way of telling the Passion account, John allows us to follow Jesus closely to assume our human condition marked by suffering. More than ever, we are close to Jesus in this slow movement. Let us follow Jesus’ movement in three steps.
From darkness to light
The passion narrative in John begins in the garden. As the Light of the world, Jesus simply enters there. In contrast, Judas comes there with lanterns and torches. Earlier, when Judas left Jesus, it was night. Now he needs material light in order to see the one who is the light of the world. Judas, however, wants to see Jesus for a wrong reason. He is seeking to betray his master.
The connection between the garden and the theme of betrayal leads us back to the beginning of Genesis where our first parents betrayed God. There, after disobeying God, Adam sought to hide. It was a hidden I, a naked but shameful I. It is an I that is deprived of God. As Saint Augustine said, it is not out of ignorance that God asked Adam, “where are you?” Rather, God was warning Adam “to consider where he was, since God was not with him.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus, the new Adam, affirms his own identity by saying “I AM.” In Jesus, God clearly and proudly shows his identity. It is an enlightened I, an open I, a convinced I. The question of identity is related to the question of denial and acceptance, the second step of our movement.
From violence and denial to nonviolence and acceptance
Judas and company had prepared for violence by carrying weapons. When Peter met violence with violence, Jesus corrected him. By doing so, Jesus showed us an example of nonviolence. Faced with hatred, violence and false accusation, Jesus remained true to himself and his mission. He was willing to endure trials because he put his confidence in the Father. In John’s Gospel, Jesus was fully aware of everything that was about to happen to him. In contrast to how the other Gospel writers portray him, the Jesus of John was not crying out in agony. There is no mention of Simon of Cyrene. Jesus carried his cross by himself. This element is a continuation of Jesus’ self-gift in John: Jesus lays down his life as he wishes. He voluntarily accepted his suffering because of the Father and because of his love for his own: having “loved his own,… he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1).
Peter, the one who met violence with violence, becomes the one who denies his master. He goes from one extreme to the other: from violence to cowardice. He even denies knowing Jesus. In contrast to Jesus who showed who he really was by saying “I AM,” Peter denies his relationship with the master by saying “I am not.” Ironically, his denial appears to be true because he is closer to the slaves and guards than to Jesus. Warming himself along with Jesus’ opponents, Peter fails to recognize himself as Jesus’ disciple. And probably, Peter fails to recognize Jesus as king and priest.
From kingship to priesthood
Like Peter, Pilate went from one place to another. He was dealing with Jesus inside and then with the high priests and the crowds outside. His back and forth movement indicated his uncertainty and fear. But finally, Pilate came to affirm the kingship of Jesus by making it known in the three languages that embraced the world of that time: Hebrew, Latin and Greek. While Pilate thought about the kingdom in a political sense, Jesus gave to it a totally different meaning: his kingdom was not of this world. As always, Jesus’ world was upside down. For him, even the crucifixion became the place of glorification: Jesus reigned from the wood of the cross.
Besides the division of Jesus’ garments, mentioned by the other evangelists, John added another precision: the seamless tunic that was not divided. This precision allows us to think about the high priest who wore a seamless tunic. And so, John presents Jesus on the cross not only as a king but also as a priest. Being king and priest, Jesus, even at the most painful moment of his life, was able to reach out to others. He founded a new family that was not based on a blood relationship, but on discipleship. And we are all members of that family.
Before saying his last word — “it is finished” — Jesus said, “I thirst.” The one who promised the Samaritan woman the water of eternal life became thirsty at death. He embraced fully the human condition by expressing his thirst. He experienced human thirst in order to quench it with the water and blood flowing out from his side. From that moment on, water, symbol of baptism, will purify our lives; and blood, symbol of the Eucharist, will nourish our souls.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to be close to you in your suffering in order to transform my mortal condition.
Resolution: Slow down on this Good Friday.