Yesterday I said that it must have been hard to be Judas. Well, I think the same thing can be said about Jesus in today’s gospel (John 12:20-36). “The hour has come” he says. “Now my soul is troubled.” It must have been hard to be Jesus.
I think that is some of the best and most hopeful news we could hear today. I know that sounds strange but when I hear Jesus say that his soul is troubled, when I see him struggling with wanting to be saved from that hour and at the same time wanting to answer the call of that hour, I feel better about my life.
I don’t mean I feel better because Jesus feels worse. I feel better because I don’t feel as strange or isolated when it’s hard being me. I don’t feel like something is uniquely wrong with me when my soul is troubled and I’m struggling with who I am and the kind of person I want to be. I don’t feel like I am going through life all by myself.
Jesus’ struggle reminds me that that even though you and I know how the Holy Week story ends, he did not, and it makes me wonder. What if Jesus is more like us than we often believe or sometimes want him to be? What if he’s working out his life as he goes just like you and I are? What if he also struggles and wrestles with remaining true to himself?
It’s so easy to think that Jesus had his life all worked out and put together in ways you and I do not. That’s often how he is portrayed in the gospels. He always seems so calm, cool, and collected. He looks so sure of himself. He knows, for example, that five loaves and two fish will be more than enough for all those gathered. And the Palm Sunday donkey retrieval goes exactly as Jesus tells the disciples it will. It’s easy to believe that it always works out for Jesus in ways that it does not work out for us. And why wouldn’t we believe that? He’s Jesus and we’re just us.
Most of us have probably heard or been taught that Jesus is the one who can do things you and I cannot. He’s the perfect one. He’s the sinless one. He’s the one for whom all things are possible. He knows more than we do and he’s everything we are not.
We probably not only believe some variation of that but I suspect it’s also what we want and expect from Jesus. We want him to be our Magical Other. We want him to be the one person out there who has the answer to our life, who can fix our problems, who will always be there for us, who knows what we want, and who will meet our deepest needs. We expect him to protect us from suffering and spare us from having to grow up and take responsibility for our lives. We pray that he will deal with the parts of our lives that are painful, scary, or difficult so we don’t have to.
Here’s the problem with that. The fantasy of a Magical Other (whether that’s Jesus, another person, an institution, or an ideology) is just another self-betrayal. It’s another way in which we turn away from ourselves and abdicate our own lives, and it robs this week of its power.
Who here today knows what it’s like to have a troubled soul? Who has felt the tension of being pulled in opposite directions at the same time? Who has ever wanted God to save you from having to do what was yours to do? Who has struggled to remain true to yourself? Who has wrestled with the light and darkness in your life? Who has felt overwhelmed and powerless? Who has felt abandoned or betrayed? Who has wept and grieved? Who has had to face your own limitations and mortality?
Aren’t those and a thousand other things like them what you and I bring to Holy Week? And aren’t they the very things we see in Jesus throughout this week? His humanity is never on greater display than it is this week, and that’s what gives Holy Week meaning and relevance in our lives.
If Jesus doesn’t know what any of that is like, if he’s never had a troubled soul, felt pulled in opposite directions, wanted a magical God, struggled to remain true to himself, wrestled with the light and darkness, felt overwhelmed and powerless, been abandoned and betrayed, wept and grieved, bumped up against his own limitation, and faced his morality; if he’s never experienced those things, then he has nothing to say to you and me and this week has nothing to offer us.
Jesus is not the Magical Other who will save us from ourselves. Instead, he shows us the way back to ourselves. He will not do our life and death for us. Instead, he does life and death with us. And that is the power of this week. The power of Holy Week is Jesus’ total and absolute identification with you and me.
He is never more identified with and like us than he is in his suffering and death. “It is,” he says, “the reason that I have come to this hour.” And it is the reason you and I can bear this soul troubling hour.