“It is the Lord God who helps me, who will declare me guilty?”
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Pilate asked, “What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”
The torturous humiliation of Jesus exceeds cowardly injustice. Jesus’ death is more than the murder of one individual. Both the Gospel and St. Paul depict Jesus as a willing coconspirator in his own humiliation, suffering, and death. Writing perhaps a quarter century before Matthew, Paul relates Christ’s passion and death in a poetic hymn:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Paul makes no mention of cowardly Pilate. He writes not a single word of those who mocked Jesus, spit on him, struck, whipped, and nailed him. Yet, Paul was a first century Roman citizen who knew what “the cross” meant. Death by crucifixion was not a solitary exercise; no one ever committed suicide by crucifixion. Crucifixion was a community homicide and, in the case of Jesus, it involved a cast of hundreds if not thousands: everyone from Pilate the cowardly governor (and his anxious wife), to the priests, people, soldiers, passersby, and criminals—the crucified and the one released.
Yet Paul mentions none of these. The only character mentioned is Jesus—the very One God “highly exalted”—and “gave the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus is the center of Paul’s hymn: he did not grasp equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born a human being; and, as such, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross.
We might say “Passion Sunday is all about Jesus.” And, in some sense, this is most certainly true. And yet, it’s somehow both more and less than “all about Jesus.” Christ’s passion is the essence of who Jesus is and what he does. We don’t need to know all about Jesus—his historical milieu, his manner of speech, the number of his siblings, or the fate of his earthly father, Joseph. All that might be interesting, but it’s of no lasting value. Today, with Isaiah, and Paul, and Matthew, we simply pour out our wonder, our incredulity, our perplexity that this one man in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be used for his own benefit—but for ours and for all others. We have never known another like him, and we never shall. No one ever shall. There is not now, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be, another like him.
Christ is unique—not in his biological flesh, blood, bones, and skin —in these he was and is as we are: human. But he is unique in his person. God opened his ear and he was not rebellious. He did not turn backward, but gave himself completely into the hands of those who beat, tortured, humiliated, and killed him. He did this not for financial gain, nor political opportunity, nor for any personal advantage. He didn’t do it for Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other religious abstraction —he did it out of obedience to the point of death. He did it out of love—his love for all, his love for them, love for his betrayers, for those who mocked, beat, and humiliated him; he did it for his killers. He did it for his Father. He did it for us.