I am moved by the story in Luke 22:14-23:56 [lectionary during week this essay was originally published]. This long tale from the week of Jesus’ passion is revealing about the ways we humans get things wrong and the remarkable ways we are embraced anyway—guided and loved into fullness of being despite mistakes.
In Luke’s version of this story, what is emphasized again and again is how Jesus’ closest followers and friends just don’t get it. Whereas some characters who aren’t supposed to get it, do understand: such as the thief beside Jesus or the Roman soldier by the cross. Most of Jesus’ followers keep failing him and misunderstanding his purpose and ministry. They believe they should violently resist those opposed to Jesus, but Jesus says this isn’t what he’s about. They seem surprised he won’t violently defeat forces arrayed against him—that instead he will suffer what must seem an unthinkable fate: to be taken by the authorities for God-knows-what to happen. They aren’t prepared to support him through it and fall asleep when he needs them most or, as in Peter’s case, deny him. One even hands him over. In the end, it is the women followers—not mentioned until the crucifixion—who remain with him.
But what I hear in this passage is not surprise from Jesus that his close friends and followers fail him. It’s like he expected it all along. And these words Jesus utters: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” apply to everyone close to him at the time, as well as everyone who fails him ever after.
The point of the long story seems to be: God doesn’t just love us when we get things right and we are “good.” God always sees our goodness. Through all, God loves us toward our potential, that seed of the divine in us. I believe this with my whole heart and have experienced it. God’s loving reminder to us of who we really are lends us the power to become it.
I believe religious traditions that dwell in shame, blame and moralism do a disservice to people, making them blind to the overarching message of the Judeo-Christian tradition, which is our belovedness. The arc of the tradition shows us growing in our ability to recognize this belovedness, in our ability to surrender to the divine within us. Some ways of retelling the passion emphasize shame and sinfulness, understanding Jesus’ death solely in terms of a sacrifice for human souls. But this understanding of Easter is only one interpretation among a few key understandings that have emerged throughout Christian history. Other theologians interpret the import of the event as God exposing something to humanity, holding up a mirror so we can see our wrong-headedness and turn away from it—toward our inherent goodness. Often what we need most is simply to be able to see.
In this account of the passion, Jesus shows atypical patience and love. We know from how the story comes out, from what the close followers of Jesus went on to do and to be after his death, that his love for them was transformative. During their lifetimes, they changed their worlds, and their legacies were far-reaching indeed. Not because they were perfect, but because they experienced atypical love despite not being perfect. May we be transformed by this love as well.