A Holy Monday Reflection
Look at this painting from Caravaggio. Where do your eyes go? Mine are drawn to Jesus’ hands, folded tightly, his fingers interlocked with an alien light illuminating them. Hands are prominent all over this painting, telling us something. Hands clutching. Hands reaching.
The central word in the story of Jesus’ arrest is “handed over” (paradidōmi). Some translations say, “betrayed,” but the Greek literally reads he was “handed over” or “delivered by.” Judas handed Jesus over (Mark 14:10). The word is used not only to describe what Judas did, but also what God the Father was willing to do for our sakes, according to Romans 8:32…
“He who did not spare his own Son, but paradidōmi for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
The larger balance of Jesus’ life on earth is filled with what he is doing — teaching, touching, healing, traveling, retreating. Active. But after being handed over, the story is about what is done to him — over which he exerts no control. Passive.
He is arrested. Abandoned. Denied. Accused. Dragged around from one corrupt official to another. Tried unjustly. Punched mockingly. Stripped. Crowned with cruel thorns. His hands and feet are hammered through with nails and pinned to wood like heavy leather hung to dry in a tannery.
As Henri Nouwen says, “That is the meaning of his Passion — being the recipient of other people’s initiatives.”
Jesus was putting the choice before the people of Jerusalem: “Will you be my disciples or my executioners?” He puts the choice before each one and before them collectively. Before human government. Before religion. Before culture. The Passion means Jesus is suffering the agony of waiting to see how they would answer. But he knows already, even as he descends the Mount of Olives sobbing. Only the unthinkable could change the outcome — an active refusal to give himself away to humanity. To the will of his Father. To love.
This week we are “handers over” — implicated in Jesus’ execution. And at the same time, we are disciples because we know we are his executioners and that he is taken away for us.
We are in the waiting with him, knowing how the story plays out but letting it have its full weight upon our otherwise fickle and forgetful hearts, bloated with a selfishness we seldom detect. We yield to the weight of this week.
Our sins — past, present and future — are the nails hammered through his giving hands. These were not clinched fists forced and held open for the hammering. They are handed over.
Christ our God,
your love is poured out in death for our sakes.
Hold us in your embrace as we wait for Easter’s dawn.
Comfort us with the promise that no power on earth, not even death itself,
can separate us from your love;
and strengthen us to wait until you are revealed to us in all your risen glory.