Passion and Passivity


Jesus and Pilate

Palm Sunday is also known as the Sunday of the Passion, and since we’re big into passion (as in “What are you passionate about?”) we might assume that this is the moment when Jesus gets really charged up and busy doing a lot of incredible things.

Passion comes from the Latin “passio” which means “suffering,” but it’s a tricky word and a slippery connotation. “Passio” is also where we get our word “passive.” There is, then, a passiveness to passion. It means “suffering,” but in the old sense of “allow.” When we suffer something we allow it (as in that King James expression, “Suffer the little children to come to me.”)

Someone once said that when the reader stands up on Palm Sunday to read the “Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ” she might better say, “The Passivity of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is when Jesus stops taking the initiative. After that intense period of preaching, teaching and healing, and the often frightening confrontations with those who seek first to trip him up and finally to destroy him, Jesus goes quiet. Pilate can hardly squeeze from him more than a monosyllable. Here is when Jesus starts suffering, starts allowing. Whatever is coming at him, he doesn’t try to hold it off. He lets it happen, lets it be.

This, too, is our week of passion. It’s our week to suffer—in the sense of “allowing.” In confronting the darkness and agony of our lives we have mostly been pushing and fighting and refusing. We have to do all that—otherwise we are simply passive in the worst sense of the word—but then, if we are going to become beautiful and spacious souls, we have to stop pushing and fighting and start allowing. We have to sit with our limitations and our sorrows, all the things that have not turned out the way we needed them to; we have to sit with our disappointments and losses, our boredoms and depressions—and let them come.

At first it will hurt a lot (this is suffering, after all!), and then it will be all right. That is the promise of this whole Passion Week, and if you have ever done even a little of this passio work you know that it’s true. You allow something you didn’t think you could ever allow—without dying—and after the dying you were all right. Better, even.

It’s Passion Week. Let it happen.

6 Responses to Passion and Passivity
  1. Michael
    March 26, 2013 | 7:44 am

    David, a good word again. And when you say good things in good, strong prose–“Pilate can hardly squeeze from him more than a monosyllable.” — it sticks with me. I won’t forget that. Thank you.

  2. Caroline Oakes
    March 26, 2013 | 2:28 pm

    This is a new and revelatory understanding of Holy Week for me, David. I will be “sitting” in a different awareness these next days. Thank you.

  3. Matt
    March 26, 2013 | 5:11 pm

    This is the first year Easter really has had meaning for me (yes, kinda embarrassing). I don’t know if it’s the Bible Challenge so I actually paid attention this year or the dark and intense suffering I felt this time last year and my gratitude that after all the suffering… you are right – I was all right. Better, even.

  4. Pam Anderson
    March 28, 2013 | 8:33 am

    Very good word for me this week… and at this stage in my life. Suffer, give in, let it happen. Unfortunately you can’t forgo the suffering. Without it, giving in and letting it happen are just a cop out.

    • david anderson
      March 28, 2013 | 12:13 pm

      Your last two sentences: Yes.

    • Caroline Oakes
      March 29, 2013 | 1:43 pm

      Yes, what a great point, Pam.

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