The Suffering of the Son of Man

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus tells his disciples that “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

You can imagine how this must gone over with his disciples, who thought they were following someone who was going to overthrow the existing power structure and reign supreme in this world.

But we know that God did not incarnate to rule the world in the sense in which the disciples thought He would. Instead of a ruler of the world, we get a suffering God, a crucified God. What do we make of that?

Theologians have found different ways to understand and talk about what Jesus’ suffering means. I read an interpretation new to me in the chapter of a book by Elizabeth Johnson that my friend Richard sent to me. Talking about the theology of German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, Johnson writes that Moltmann compolses a midrash, an imaginative gloss on the crucifixion. She writes,

How should we think about God from the godforsakeness of the cross? Rather than explaining it away, we should hear it literally. This terrible cry [‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”] reveals that on the cross something is going on between God and God. Handed over by his Father for the sake of sinners, the Son is rejected and actually abandoned by God. He sufferes violence and dies a godforsaken death.

Moltmann dares a further step. While his Son is dying on the cross, God the Father suffers too, but not in the same way. The Father suffers the loss of the Son, experiencing infinite grief. There is total separation between them; they are lost to each other. At the same time, however, they have never been so close. They are united in a deep community of will, each willing to do this for love of the world. As a result, the Holy Spirit who is love, the Spirit of their mutual love, flows out into the broken, sinful world. Their Spirit justifies the godless, rescues the abandoned, befriends the lonely, fills the forsaken with love, brings the dead alive, and guarantees that no one will ever again die godforsaken because Christ is already there in the depths of abandonment.

That should give you something to contemplate today as you sit with today’s Gospel.