Opening the Word: The suffering servant

Jesus does not die a happy death. Having proclaimed the Passion this week, we know. We know about the sufferings that he enduredupon the cross. We know about the plot, made by a friend, to put him to death.

But how often do we consider the loneliness of Jesus upon the cross?

In the Gospel of Matthew, every disciple has gone missing. Every person has left.

Peter, the one who proclaimed Jesus as Messiah, as Lord, as the Savior of the world, then denies him: “I do not know the man” (Mt 26:72).

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who asked for a privileged place in Jesus’ kingdom. Gone.

The rabbled crowd, who longed for signs and wonders, are not present even though it was they who cried out, “Let him be crucified!” (Mt 27:22).

Not one person who could be just was just. Not one person who could love did love: “…darkness came over the whole land” (Mt 27:45).

Yet, all these moments of loneliness, of darkness, of desolation pale in comparison to the Son’s experience of abandonment by the Father.

At his baptism in the river Jordan, the Father proclaims the belovedness of the Son. At his transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the Father speaks, once again, reminding us to give our wills over to the beloved Son of the Father.

But now as Jesus dies upon the cross, there is nothing but the solitary voice of the Word made flesh: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).

Of course, we know that our Lord is quoting from Psalm 22. We know that this is a lament psalm that does not end with sorrow, with pain, but with hope.

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death. And we know the reason for hope.

But on this Sunday, on this Passion Sunday, during this Holy Week, let’s not pass over the lament too quickly.

Jesus Christ is the suffering servant, the one who emptied himself completely out of his love. On his body is laid the sins of the world, all the darkness that we human beings could throw at him.

The darkness of a political order that didn’t care to be just.

The darkness of his fellow Israelites, who did not recognize him.

The darkness of his disciples who could not remain.

The silence of the Father in the midst of the suffering of the Son is a sign of this darkness. Jesus takes on the fullness of the human condition. He knows the suffering of life and death, the bitter silence encountered by the just man who keeps the law out of love.

If Jesus did not know the terrors of this silence, the sorrow of this sin, the pain of loneliness, he would not have taken up the fullness of the human condition. The full condition of the just, who love unto the end, but are rejected by an age grown cold.

“And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Mt 27:51-53).

Even now in the midst of suffering and death, loneliness and sorrow, God speaks a word.

The Father has spoken the definitive word in his Son.

The definitive word of love.

The final word.

“‘Truly, this was the son of God’” (Mt 27:54).

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.