September is the month traditionally dedicated to the Sorrows of Mary. But the life and ministry of Jesus is also punctuated with sorrows, including His final agony on the cross. So let us take the sorrows of Mary as an opportunity to also consider those of Jesus.
No place to lay His head. In Luke 9:58, someone proclaims his wish to become a follower of Jesus. Jesus responds: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” This sense of homelessness pervades the gospels. Think for a moment: where exactly is Jesus’ home base of operations? He really has none. He is constantly on the move with His disciples, counting on the hospitality of their families or others. If there is any geographical center of gravity to His ministry it is Jerusalem, where He is crucified.
For us, the homelessness of Jesus has three ramifications. First, we live in a society where it is increasingly difficult to have a sense of belonging—due to increasing technological isolation and a ‘culture of narcissism.’ Second, as Christians we are always called to be pilgrims—never too attached to our earthly home, always on a journey to heaven. Third, Christ’s own homelessness should instill in us a renewed commitment to comfort those who are physically homeless in our society.
No honor in His home. At one point in His ministry, Jesus is rebuffed by his hometown of Nazareth. “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house,” Jesus remarks in Mark 6:4. Jesus’ rejection has a special relevance for us today as many faithful Catholics are facing increasing ostracism from so-called acceptable society—in large measure because of the Church’s prophetic voice on matters of sexuality.
Jesus wept. One of the more memorable expressions of Jesus’ human emotions comes in John 11:34-35. Jesus has just learned of the death of His friend Lazarus. “Where have you laid him?” He said. “They said to him, ‘Sir, come and see.’ And Jesus wept.” This reaction is all the more striking because Jesus then turns around and raises Lazarus from the dead. But He allowed Himself to experience human grief first. God saves us, but He does not necessarily spare us our griefs.
Lament over Jerusalem. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!” Jesus says in Luke 13:34. And again later, in Luke 19:41, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. The impenitence and faithlessness of our society is certainly a cause for lament among Christians in the United States today.
Gethsemane. Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane is at the peak of His sorrows (Luke 22:39-46). On the cross he took on Himself the whole weight of man’s sin and suffering as a result of the Fall. It was at Gethsemane that the full dread of this event filled Jesus. His response is instructive for us when we are facing any kind of existential struggle.
First, Jesus prays that not His will but that the Father’s will be done. For us this has a twofold meaning. First, whatever grief or pain we are experience is part of God’s plan, His will for our lives. Accepting that is essential to enduring whatever we may be going through. Second, for those of us struggling with any kind of sin or temptation we ought to pray for healing of our will so that it might be aligned with His will and not our selfish desires.
Second, Jesus prays. He prays through the grief and pain that He is experiencing. He does not close Himself off from God.
Third, Jesus is in such deep agony that God sends an angel to comfort Him, according to the account in Luke. We should not be afraid to seek comfort from others. Jesus also asks the disciples to remain with Him—the traditional basis for spending a Holy Hour in Eucharistic Adoration. This suggests yet a further approach to dealing with whatever might be afflicting us.
Betrayal with a Kiss. It is striking that the agony is immediately followed by Jesus betrayal by Judas. The betrayal is of the deep piercing kind that comes when someone who was formerly an intimate friend turns against you. As Jesus puts it, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48).
Jesus will go on to experience ever widening circles of betrayal by his own people. First, His disciples flee after Gethsemane. Their abandonment is driven home by the betrayal of Peter, which Jesus personally witnesses (Luke 22:61). Next, the chief priests and elders reject him. Then the crowd of Jews—standing in for the nation of Israel—does when they cry out for His crucifixion. Then, in a sense, the judgment of the whole Roman Empire is brought to bear on Jesus when He is crucified under its authority.
Every human relationship that Jesus experienced is severed—first, those of friend and follower. (Those of his local community, at Nazareth were long ago sundered.) Next, ties of nationality are severed. And His membership in the broader political community of Rome is terminated by His execution. In the end, Jesus even loses His own mother due to his death. (This is indicated in the scene where He entrusts Mary to John.)
Recall the biblical principles that ‘by His wounds we are healed’ (1 Peter 2:24, Isaiah 53:5). What was broken in Jesus’ body, mind, and life, is healed in ours. Therefore there is no relationship that Jesus cannot heal because every type of relationship was broken in His life.
Abandonment on the Cross. Gethsemane does not break Jesus. But He is truly ‘broken’ on the cross (all the while never ceasing to be God or losing the fullness or innocence of His humanity). In terms of His interior distress, the decisive moment is when He cries out to God the Father, asking why He has been abandoned (see Matthew 27:46). To feel abandoned by God when one has known Him is certainly the worst imaginable spiritual torment. Many of us have experienced this to some degree as a result of sin or dryness in our devotions or an onslaught of doubt. Jesus too has been here. He is Emmanuel—God-with-us—with us even in those times of seemingly divine abandonment.
On the cross, Jesus experienced the deepest level of interior sorrow imaginable. This means that there is no sorrow we can suffer that is beyond Jesus’ reach. And if we can’t sense His touch, if the light of faith seems to falter, if we have passed our breaking point, if we can’t bring ourselves to pray our usual way, then just simply cry out to God.