In both Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and, more recently, Mark Burnett’s ‘The Bible’, the devil stands by watching Jesus’ moments of agony.
Contemporary Jesuit writer, James Martin, SJ, describes three temptations facing Jesus during his Passion: The temptation of accommodation; the temptation of annihilation, and the temptation of abandonment.
Jesus could have accommodated his opposition by not offending his listeners and telling them what they wanted to hear thereby avoiding his fate. When the Pharisees tested him time after time, Jesus could have appeased them. But he didn’t.
Jesus could also have simply wiped out/annihilated his opponents by rallying the rebellious Jews against the Roman oppressors. Moreover, he could have called on divine power to protect him through force and violence. But he didn’t.
Finally, Jesus could have left his ministry behind and the life God chose for him – abandoned it – in favor of a more conventional life. He could have settled down in the quiet sea-side town of Capernaum and taken on his earthly father’s carpentry business. But he didn’t.
Instead of doing all these things, he chose the path of surrendering to what came before him. He remained true to himself and his path.
Jesus chose the path of love and obedience. Jesus understood that the only way for God to fully embrace the human life and therefore the only way for God to love us, was the path of suffering and death. How did he come to align his will with God’s will? In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” He prayed this as an affirmation that his deepest desires aligned with God’s purposes. “With you, all things are possible,” he prayed in his hour of anguish.
Indeed, what is God’s will? How do we discern God’s will for our lives? And when we are faced with the right path to follow, are we not also tempted to accommodate, to annihilate or to abandon? Early Christians, even before they were identified as such, were called, “Followers of the Way”, or “People of the Way”. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the truth and the life…”
This is the path of Jesus that we follow – a path that does not accommodate, annihilate nor avoid the reality of situation on the way to new life and resurrection. Life and death, light and dark, suffering and healing – the opposites are not excluded nor denied in the life of discipleship. It’s more both/and, than either/or.
March 25th is a significant date in Christian tradition, did you know? What we realize on the Sunday of the Passion / Palm Sunday is a liturgical convergence, an integration of meaning in the events of Holy Week, rather than a dissection and deconstruction into separate parts.
Some Christian denominations on March 25 celebrate the Annunciation – the day the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was pregnant with the Holy Spirit – nine months before Christmas Day. It is also the day ancient Christian believed Jesus was crucified. Finally, while now the calendar puts it on March 21, this time was associated with the creation of the world, on the Spring Equinox, the day when the day is divided equally between light and dark.
Creation, Incarnation (Christmas) and Passion (Crucifixion) – all collapse and converge on this day in Christian tradition. The larger purpose of God come together to offer significant meaning on this one day: We recall the separation of day and night in Genesis during creation; the entering of God into the world in the person of Jesus; and, finally, the passion of Jesus brings to concrete and vivid reality the cross as the way to resurrection.
We live as we worship, and worship as we live.
Amidst the collisions of light and dark, hope and despair, love and suffering in our own lives, how do we discern God’s will for our lives? What are we supposed to do? Often when we ask these questions we assume that we have to figure it out. As if God’s will exists somewhere out there, detached or opposed to us, like clues we have to solve and decipher – a problem or mystery.
And yet, Christians have for centuries believed that God’s will was discerned within their very own lives. Our own desires help reveal God’s desires for us. We look for signs of those desires in our own lives. From ancient days, the Psalmist prayed: “May God grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill your plans.”
Here are some pointers:
- Sometimes an obligation is an obligation, and you need to do it in order to be a good and moral person. But be careful your life is not simply one in which you only respond to shoulds or pushes that may not be coming from God. “When you feel pushed to do something – I should do this, I should do that – out of a sense of crushing and lifeless obligation or a desire to please everyone, it may not be coming from God.” God’s ‘pulls’ are gentle invitations that beckon in love – that do not accommodate, annihilate nor abandon the reality you face.
- The desires of our heart are not the surface pushes and pulls of wishes and wants, neither are they tied to our compulsive, impulsive selves. The desires of our hearts are discovered deep within us. When getting water from the lake or river into a jar, we need to let all the sediment – twigs, leaves, sand – settle to the bottom. We can’t examine or use it right away. Even just waiting for a few minutes is really not good enough. We have to wait a good day, leaving it alone, still. Then, the water is at its best. Truly, it is the best of ourselves that will reveal our truest and deepest desires.
- Finally, the desires of our hearts as the way to discerning God’s will for us, are realized in the most ordinary tasks of the day. What God wills for us is presented in the problems, situations, people and events of our daily lives. God’s will for us is not found in any abstract principle disconnected from the reality of our simple, ordinary lives. If you want to find God’s will and God’s path for your life, start with the realities of your day-to-day, and discover the path of love and attention within the specifics of every moment you face.
Pray for what you desire, as the way of discovering God’s will for your life. Your will and God’s will may very well be closer than you imagined. When we follow in the Way of Christ, we discover that God is Immanuel – God is with us.
 James Martin, SJ, “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything; A Spirituality for Real Life” (New York: HarperCollins, 2010) p.299.
 Matthew 22:15-22; John 2:13-22
 John 18:36; Luke 23:39
 Mark 14:36
 Acts 24:14.
 John 14:6
 Beth Bevis in Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe, eds., “God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter” (Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2015), p.155-157.
 James Martin, SJ, ibid., p.279-283.
 Psalms 20:4
 James Martin SJ, ibid., p.329.