Here, and unusually in all three readings, we can find a common crucial focus: How Jesus—or the Isaian servant, or any of us—will meet and engage suffering, whether it is imposed by others directly or comes more remotely from human ill-will. Also, of course, we are challenged to think about how we offer such suffering to others, whether we inflict it intentionally or more incidentally. The heart of the question is what is the most healthy and helpful understanding of what God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit accomplished for and with us in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, and how we see ourselves participating in it, intensely in these weeks and throughout our lives.
The passion narratives in general and theologies of them show a knife’s edge: Does God require the violence, need it in some way? As we see the human actions that bring about the death of Jesus, do we understand that the Trinity relies on such deeds? Wants them? Condones them? Abets them? Or, as some would offer, is the “grammar” of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus such that we can see the violence resisted and subverted, definitively rejected as being what God wills?
In human transactions that are similar to these Passion Week events, those who strategize to use the violence of another to subvert and disarm violence are often and easily accused of using the violence themselves. Readers may recall in the life of Gandhi (and in the film Gandhi) the march against the salt works, where marchers protesting the injustice were brutalized by their opponents, and yet row after row of such protesters continued to present themselves, both to respond with nonviolence and to expose the brutality that was present though normally concealed. Many read that scene as a low moment for Gandhi and his philosophy, urging that he precipitated the reaction he got. It is possible to read the events of this liturgical week against such a backdrop, though not the easiest way to construct them. One result of such a hermeneutic is to scrutinize our basic insight about God and violence, to search our own lives as complicit in violence in many ways, and to understand more deeply the call to reconciliation that seems to lie at the heart of Jesus’ challenge to us.
Barbara Green, O.P.