“It is done. We have judged our God and have ordered Him slain. / We will not have Christ with us more—He is in the way.”
These lines open Paul Claudel’s poem, “The Way of the Cross,” a lyrical, moving reflection on the 14 Stations. Claudel, one of my favorite poets, had a profound love and knowledge of Scripture. His poetry has often opened up new and wonderful perspectives in my study of the Bible. In writing that Christ “is in the way,” Claudel emphasizes the two choices before each of us: to embrace Jesus as the Way or to try to remove him from our way.
Those choices are evident throughout today’s Gospel reading. There is a series of gifts offered by Jesus as he, the King of kings, makes his way to his throne, the Cross. These gifts involve choices not only on the part of man, but also on the part of the God-man.
In the Upper Room, Jesus took the bread and blessed it, and said, “This is my body, which will be given for you.” He took the cup, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” This, of course, is the gift of the Eucharist, the Body and Blood that nourishes the sons and daughters of God. This gift was offered along with the gift of the priesthood, through which this perfect and holy sacrifice has been perpetually offered (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 611).
Yet one of the Twelve rejected the gifts. Judas — grasping and greedy — had spitefully judged Jesus and believed he was now in the way. He refused to accept and be part of a kingdom rooted in self-sacrifice, suffering and redemptive love. “But woe,” said Jesus, “to that man by whom he is betrayed.”
The gift of the cup of the New Covenant, the Catechism remarks, “is afterwards accepted by him from his Father’s hands in his agony in the garden at Gethsemani” (No. 612). This gift of Jesus is a profound mystery, for it is bound up in the mystery of the Incarnation. The second person of the Trinity, St. Paul states in today’s epistle, had “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” and “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death.” The first Adam had failed the test of love in the Garden of Eden when faced with the tree of the knowledge. But the new Adam, whose sweat in the Garden of Gethsemani “became like drops of blood,” humbly embraced the torturous trial of the tree of Golgotha. The anguish endured in private prayer would soon be a public lamentation: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
The third gift is that of love, redemption, salvation, reconciliation. It is the gift of the Cross, the gift of the Incarnate Word who did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. “The shame of his passion was not the fruit of his own will,” wrote St. Cyril of Alexandria, “but he still consented to undergo it that he might save the earth.”
Arms stretched wide, Jesus embraced the world. He embraced the thief, who asked to be remembered in Paradise. He embraces each one of us as we contemplate those words of trust and filial devotion: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Jesus, for many people, is in the way. But for those who gaze upon the gift of the Cross, Jesus is the Way. In the words of Claudel: “There is no cross of our living where His body will not fit. / There is no sin of ours for which He has not a wound.”
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.