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The Word, Given to Death

By Zachary Guiliano

As we run our way through the readings appointed for this week, we feel a sense of urgency in Luke’s Gospel narrative (18:18-22:46). Here, we reach the end of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem; we watch him enter the city and its temple in triumph, to cleanse and to teach; we leave him on the cusp of his betrayal. He prays in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (22:42).

Other words of his are filled with a similar pathos, an emotional intensity, a suffering that seems lodged within his person: inescapable, all encompassing. He weeps over Jerusalem: “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (19:42). He prophesies destruction: “These are days of vengeance …. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days!” (21:22-23). He speaks from the abundance of his merciful heart, which pours forth words and signs, efficacious sacraments of forgiveness and healing:

I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. … This is my body, which is given for you. … This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (22:15, 19, 20)

Swirling around him are the people, caught up in the agonies of his coming Passion, to which he drives himself and his hearers. They give names to him: Good Teacher, Son of David, “the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” He allows them.

Jesus describes himself more frequently with two names in this section ¾ the Son of Man, the Lord — each hinting at his soon-to-come suffering and his glory. In his parables and teaching he is more expansive. He is a nobleman going away to receive royal power; some of his slaves consider him “harsh” (19:11-27). He is the “beloved son” and “heir,” whose vineyard has been stolen (19:13, 14). He is a stone, rejected by the builders, a hefty stone, a crushing stone, a stone so solid that those falling on it are broken to pieces, like the waves breaking on the shore. For they cannot move this boundary, this foundation, this limit, this beginning and end set by God (see Deut. 19:14; Prov. 8:29; Rom. 10:4; Col. 1:16; Rev. 3:14). He is “the Lord” to whom “my Lord” speaks: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool” (Luke 20:42-43).

Actions speak louder than words, however, especially when joined with words. So Jesus claims more in signs and speech. His entry into Jerusalem — simultaneously welcomed and rejected — constitutes her visitation from the God whose peace is rebuffed, with disastrous results (19:41-44). As he drives out those buying and selling in the temple, he lays claim to it: “My house shall be a house of prayer” (19:46). He asks to see a coin: “Whose head and whose title does it bear?” Answer: “Caesar’s.” He continues:

“Then give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent. (20:25-26).

Words, deeds. They are the matter of every ministry, both his and ours. But now they are the arena in which Jesus fights unto death, and his weapons. They are the trap set for him, and the means of his escape. They are the substance of his art, existing only because he upholds them at every moment. They are his, by the gift of the Father, and no one can snatch them out of his hand — unless he gives them over. And give them over he shall.

Jesus gives his disciples instruction on his death and resurrection, on the coming of the kingdom of God, on their need to be sober and alert, so “that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap” (21:34-35). He gives them a way of life, a model for both service and rule: in the kingdom he confers, those sitting on thrones to judge must be those who serve at table (22:24-30). He gives it all in his supper. The nourishing loaf becomes his broken body, “given for you.” The gladdening cup is made his blood “poured out for you.” His instruction, way, and supper are all of one piece, for they are all gifts from him, the Lord. By these the disciples — we — enter into his own life, death, and resurrection.

Jesus gives himself over to death — for as soon as he hands over the bread and the cup, he notes that he too will be handed over, betrayed, given into others’ hands:

“Behold, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to him by whom he is betrayed!” Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this. (22:22-23)

They asked rightly. Judas’s hand was certainly the immediate source of his betrayal, at one moment dipping bread into oil and at another dipping into silver. He stands uniquely among them, with a hand that touched holy things, a hand that kept the purse, already corrupted by the love of money. But they would all betray him in the end, each in their own way: Peter, by making promises in the Spirit that his flesh could not keep (“Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” [22:33]); others, taking up the lawless sword or sleeping, as they fall into a time of trial (22:35-46).

What about us? Our hands have touched holy things; our ears have heard his songs, our tongues sung Holy, holy, holy. Our eyes have seen his love, our feet trod his courts, and our bodies been fed by his body. Yet we too have turned traitor, and placed our hands, strengthened for service, in opposition to him.

At this appointed time of trial, the Lord ceases to act. For he has given himself over to time and matter; he is willingly betrayed by his creatures, lately become tools in the hand of the Enemy. He has arrived at a time to keep silence, a time to love, a time of peace (Eccles. 3:7-8).

Jesus girds himself for what is coming, when his people will betray him with a word and a kiss.



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