The Way of BeautySuffering and beauty, part 3

Jesus predicted his passion and death to fulfill the prophecies through the mouths of the Old Testament prophets. In fact, centuries before Christ, the prophecies predicted that the expected Messiah would be despised and rejected by men. What literary artist could have conjured up the precise details of his denouement? The logic of Good Friday is an oxymoron, the story, wild and appalling. On Palm Sunday, Jesus returns to Jerusalem knowing that he will suffer.  The events of the three-day ordeal confront us as creative chaos. The most explicit of these uncanny prophecies are found in Isaiah chapters 50-53, but at least one hundred of them are scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
 
Jesus’ passion and death may be considered on two levels, the human and the divine. The human context for the fulfillment of these prophecies is in to be found in a familiar source of suffering—human malice. But over the centuries, the idea of the Suffering Servant-Messiah ran through these prophecies. Verses in the New Testament support those in the Old. The parallels present a singular and compelling case because no historical figure other than Jesus has fulfilled them.
 
What do the prophecies ascertain about the last week in the life of Jesus?  In the passages cited below, the first reference refers to the Hebrew Scriptures, the second to their fulfillment in the Christian Scriptures. Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king riding on an ass (Zech 9:9/Mt 21:5).  Betrayed by a friend (Ps 41:9/Jn 13:21), he was sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zech 11:12/Mt 26:15; Lk 22:5); these pieces of silver were given for the potter’s field and cast in the temple (Zech 11:13/Mt 27:9-10).  His friends deserted him (Zech 13:7/Mt 26:56), and others gave false witness about him (Ps 35:11/Mt 26:60). In his last hours, he was spat upon and scourged (Is 50:6, 53:5/Mt 27:26,30), struck on the cheek (Micah 5:1/Mt 27:30). The Messiah was called the sacrificial lamb (Is 53:5/Jn 1:29 who was given for a new covenant (Is 42:6; Jer 31:31-34/Rom 11:27; Gal 3:17, 424; Heb 8:6,8,10;10:16, 29; 12:24; 13:20), He was despised, rejected by men (Is 53:3:1-6), the one who bore “our griefs” (Is 53:4,6); “and with his striped we are healed” (Is 53:5).
 
In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the divine plan of the Incarnation and the paschal mystery hovers over universal redemption. Christianity proclaims that Jesus saves all men and women by canceling out Adam’s pride and disobedience with humility and obedience.  As a result, all men and women are liberated in spirit and in truth accompanied by our cooperation with God’s grace not to refuse the grace of redemption. Christ’s redemption is revealed in verses 2:5-11, and the remaining part of this reflection will consider this hymn from its soteriological aspect.

Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has raised him high and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:5-11).

“Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped . . .” (v 6)
 
The plan of salvation was anticipated in the Hebrew Scriptures with the Messiah’s advent.  Only the New Adam, Christ, could repair the sin of the Old Adam. Though the plan is a trinitarian event, it is only the God-Man who is involved in the paschal mystery.  At stake was man’s absolute need of a savior, the divine initiative and plan to accomplish it, and Mary’s acceptance of the plan on behalf of the human race. (Jn 1:1-18; 1Jn 4:7-15; Heb 1:1-3a).
 
In the Incarnation, Jesus freely put aside his divine status and did not cling to it, but assumed his redemptive mission as an act of love toward his Father.  Why did the Word condescend to assume human flesh?  Because in the order of being, flesh is far removed from God, the descent of God is expressed more graphically, and the kindness of God, shown to be more profound. The equivalent of God’s external form was the glory of the Lord.
 
This mission finds its expression in the Son’s prayer: “Father, you have given me all that you have, and I have returned all to you; I came from you and have believed that it was you who sent me” (Jn 5:30, 36-38, 43; 7:16,28-29, 35; 8:16,18,42). St. John of the Cross, the great Spanish mystic theologian and poet (d 591), couches the mystery of the Incarnation in the language of love and beauty, redemption and life:

Now that the time had come
when it would be good
to ransom the bride
serving under the hard yoke
of that law
which Moses had given her,
the Father, with tender love,
spoke in this way:
“Now you see, Son, that your bride
was made in your image,
and so far as she is like you
she will suit you well;
yet she is different, in her flesh,
which your simple being does not have.

In perfect love
this law holds:
that the lover become
like the one he loves;
 for the greater their likeness
the greater their delight.
Surely your bride’s delight
would greatly increase
were she to see you like her,
in her own flesh.”

“My will is yours,”
the Son replied,
“and my glory is that you will be mine.
This is fitting, Father,
what you, the Most High, say;
for in this way
your goodness will be more evident,
your great power will be seen
and your justice and wisdom.
I will go and tell the world
Spreading the word
Of Your beauty and sweetness
And of Your sovereignty.
I will go and seek my Bride
And take upon Myself
Her weariness and labors
In which she suffers so;
And that she may have life
I will die for her,
And, lifting her out of that deep,
I will restore her to You.”

(St. John of the Cross, “Romanza” #7, "The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross," 66-67)
 
Jesus’ love for all will lead to the cross, and the cross will lead to the resurrection glory, and redemptive healing. His followers will be asked to walk in his footsteps.  Next week, we will continue reflecting on St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2:5-11.

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