A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
March 29, 2018
Often our Holy Week meditations focus on how Jesus’ self-sacrifice is foundational to human salvation, and rightly so. Jesus’ completion of his mission is truly salvific for all humanity, as Paul eloquently proclaims in Romans 5 and elsewhere. The world has been forever changed by what God accomplished through the obedience and vindication of Jesus through his life, suffering, death, and resurrection.
This Holy Week, however, I invite us to focus on another aspect of the story of Jesus’ suffering and death, namely, how his pattern of obedience shapes our own obedience to God. As his disciples, we are called to walk in his way, which goes well beyond simply receiving the benefits his obedience has won for us.
Holy Week narratives show Jesus in a highly deliberative mode. As I noted in last week’s letter, he plans carefully his entry into Jerusalem on the back of a colt. At the close of Palm Sunday, Mark records Jesus taking the twelve into the Temple, where he cases out everything carefully before returning to Bethany for the night. (Mark 11:11) The next day he acts on what he has thereby learned, overturning the tables of money-changers and castigating temple authorities for commercializing the holy. Both the triumphal entry and the overthrow of money-changers’ tables are meticulously planned by Jesus.
This precise planning pattern continues to be manifest throughout Holy Week. The celebration of the Passover, at which Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper, is shaped similarly to his triumphal entry. In both cases, Jesus sends an advance team of disciples to negotiate terms and set in motion plans for the event he would headline. According to John, Jesus sets Judas in motion to complete his act of betrayal. (John 13:27-30) Later that night as Judas is seeking out Jesus to facilitate his arrest, Jesus takes the initiative to reveal himself to Judas and his cohorts, who had expected they would need to sleuth him out. (John 18:1-8)
Let there be no illusion: Jesus was as distraught over his rejection and suffering as any of us would be. Yet, according to Hebrews, he offered himself up in reverent submission to God amid his loud cries and tears. Jesus was no masochist. He cried out for escape “to the one who was able to save him from death.” (Hebrews 5:7) Yet he pressed forward resolutely toward the fulfillment of his mission.
In so doing, he set us an example of how to live in our own situation. He deliberately, systematically, pro-actively embraced his calling to lay down his life for the sake of his calling. And he invites his disciples to do likewise.
Jesus shows us that to follow his way is to embrace our vocation no matter the opposition. He invites us to a way of life in which we are not victims of those who oppose us, or of inclement circumstances. He shows us how to maintain agency no matter our circumstances. Maintaining agency is critical to our capacity to fulfill our calling.
Jesus lays down his life, it is not taken from him. He takes up his cross, it is not forced upon him. He assumes the active mediatorial agency of a priest, rather than merely enduring the passive suffering of a convict, as he prays for his crucifiers, “Father, forgive them.” Even though they do not ask for it, he offers them absolution.
In assuming agency in places where everything around him seeks to victimize him, Jesus shows us how to respond to our own greatest struggles. In the end, Jesus’ will prevails over the predations of his accusers and crucifiers. His will to fulfill his calling. His will to do his Father’s will. Nothing more, nothing less. (Luke 22:42; John 4:34)
The will to fulfill our vocation is crucial to being a disciple of Jesus. Of course, this vocation is not “ours” at all; it is given to us, a calling from God. In bending our will to fulfill our God-given calling, we follow in the footsteps of one who laid down his life because a greater joy awaited him in carrying out his calling. Follow the joy, even as he followed the joy! (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Yours in following Him,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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