April 10, 2022

Passion Week and Unholy Passions

by Mark Franke

We are in Holy or Passion Week, the most significant eight days on the Christian calendar. It is a week of remembrance of the original Passion Week which occurred nearly 2,000 years ago.

The week proceeds along a very emotional roller-coaster ride for Christians. It begins with Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem amidst a crowd of exuberant worshippers, no doubt made even more enthusiastic with the news of the raising of Lazarus just days before.

While the excitement dies down over the next few days, there is still tension throughout the week as Jesus teaches openly in the Temple against the wishes of the elites of His day. It reaches its quietest point on Maundy Thursday evening in the solemn and contemplative Last Supper in the upper room.

Then things get really bad, really fast. His arrest and secret nighttime trial ends with a horrific execution in a manner never equaled in human history for its state-invoked cruelty.

But then, after a day of uncertainty, the week concludes with the glorious miracle of the Resurrection.

That’s how the week proceeds for Christians. What, if any, lessons can it provide to Christians and non-Christians alike?

Whether one believes Jesus of Nazareth to be God Incarnate, His life provides an example for us all in how we deal with our fellow man. Did He ever shout someone down, preventing him from speaking in public? Hardly. Instead He engaged opponents in the open, leaving them in wonderment sometimes and extremely frustrated other times. His approach was to combat wrong ideas with superior ones and win the day by persuasion rather than by a show of verbal or physical force.

He was opposed constantly by his religious and political adversaries yet He never once demanded they lose their positions. He didn’t organize any mass protests or incite a mob to “cancel” anyone. Even though He was right — He was God after all — He patiently confronted their attitudes and behaviors without devaluing them as human beings.

There was no double standard. He never exhorted anyone to do what He Himself would not or could not do. “Do what I say, not what I do” is not the lesson to be learned from His teaching and action. Compare that with today and our openly hypocritical public officials who embarrassed themselves during the Covid shutdowns. But it also includes the rest of us, too often comfortable in our cocoons of self-righteousness at the expense of others.

Can one even imagine Jesus dividing people into groups of greater and lesser worth based on purely external and visible characteristics? He could condemn sin, and make no mistake on this, He always condemned sin yet without irredeemably condemning the sinner.

In what may be the most misunderstood and misapplied of all the Gospel accounts, the story of the adulterous woman in John 8 stands out. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” is misquoted on a quick draw basis whenever someone tries to escape being called to account by others. But the story does not end with that admonishment. Instead, Jesus looks at the adulterous woman and commands her in no uncertain terms: “Go, and sin no more.” (John 8:11 KJV) This was not “I’m OK; You’re OK” pop psychology.

Then there is His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Jesus did not shun her for her birth as a despised Samaritan but still caught her in a lie about her husband. One more sinner was called to repentance for her action, not cast out due to her superficial identity with an unfavored group.

The examples are clear and challenging to us today if only we would listen.

Perhaps the hardest lesson to learn from Him lies in His first words from the cross. “Father, forgive them . . .” Forgiveness? For those who railroaded his conviction and execution? Well, He was . . . is . . . God Incarnate but the world would be a whole lot better if we all learned from Him to practice more forgiveness and less payback.

We live in awful times, the worst in my seven decades of life. I am sure things were much worse in past centuries but it still rankles that so much of our current woe is of our own making. We have an exemplar from 2,000 years ago if we would only humble ourselves to learn from Him. But can we? Or is our profane passion driven by hateful prejudice toward those who disagree with us rather than the unbounded love of our fellow man which caused His very real passion of intense suffering? Even non-Christians should see the wisdom of this great teacher. And faith enlightens us believers even more.

“When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8 ESV) Good question.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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