The Hidden Power of God

Palm Sunday. Mk 11:1-10; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9,17-18a,10-20,23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47

In our own period of history it has became fashionable, once again, to deny the divinity of Christ, that Jesus Christ is both God and man. Those who would deny this most central truth of Christianity often argue that Jesus Christ did not claim to be God and that the Bible is unclear and misunderstood. Today's Gospel, however, asserts the divinity of Jesus Christ with complete and perfect clarity. First, when Jesus is on trial, the high priest asks him, “Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?” to which Jesus responds, “I am.” As well as Jesus affirming that he is the Son of God, the phrase 'I am' is also the name of God in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. When Moses asks the name of God in the Old Testament book of Exodus, God responds, “I am who am.” So Jesus clearly claims to be the Son of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, God made man for our salvation. Indeed, the hostile reaction of his listeners confirms that they understood clearly the magnitude of Jesus' claim; they respond by calling for his death. The second clear witness of this Gospel to the divinity of Christ is given to us by the Roman centurion near the cross. Having seen how Jesus died, the centurion is amazed and exclaims, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

So why do so many of Christ's listeners and his own people refuse to believe his divinity? A hint of an answer can be seen from the reactions of some of those way who look on him on the cross. The Gospel says that they issue a mocking challenge, “Come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” In other words, the onlookers say that they are prepared to accept a demonstration of divine power as evidence for Jesus' claims. Now it is to be expected that people ask for a demonstration of power because omnipotence or irresistible power is the attribute that people most usually associate with God. If, for example, we say,  “God is the Creator,” we imply God's power to create all things, seen and unseen. If we say, “God is a rock,” or, “God is fortress,” we are using metaphors to describe God's power to protect and safeguard. If we say “God is a consuming fire,” we are using a metaphor that refers, in one interpretation, to God's power to burn away what is evil, and so on.

Now Jesus has, in fact, given many demonstrations of divine power, for example, in healing the sick, raising the dead, calming storms and multiplying food. Furthermore, he warns the high priest that he will come again in power, “You will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” But at this time, the time of his Passion, Jesus submits to being abused, mocked, spat upon, scourged and crucified, the most painful and shameful form of execution in the Roman Empire. Why, then, does Jesus refuse to show his power at this time? One reason for enduring the cross is that he must consummate the sacrifice he is making for our salvation; he wills to complete his work. A second and associated reason, however, is that we cannot, ultimately, come to know God through power. Fallen human beings often yearn for power and are tempted to try to relate to God in terms of power. Many people either seek to acquire Godlike powers or seek to bargain with God for power as a source of benefit for themselves. So what Jesus does, therefore, is to empty himself, becoming like a slave, being obedient even unto death. In other words, God the Son allows himself to be stripped of all power to reveal to us what is more important. What is more important than the power of God is the love of God, the love of God revealed most perfectly in the sacrifice of Calvary. Among many other things, Jesus is teaching us a lesson. We cannot come to know God through power; we can come to know God and enter heaven through love, the love by which we surrender to God, as God the Son surrendered to His Beloved Father in Gethsemane, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.”

 Father Andrew Pinsent, Saint Ambrose Church, Saint Louis, 4th April 2009

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