The story of mankind is a story about weakness. In the beginning man was weak. Satan tried to help man hide his weakness. First he convinced man he didn't have to be weak, “You can fix your weakness–just eat the fruit.” That didn't work! Now man was twice as weak, also feeling ashamed. “That's alright,” Satan continues to tempt, “just hide yourself. If no one sees your weakness there's nothing to be ashamed of and the shame will go away.” That still didn't work as God kept calling out, “Adam, where are you?” Soon after, man tried a third tactic–destroy the weakness. Cain killed Abel. That seemed more effective, except that feeling wouldn't go away and that voice kept following us saying, “Where is your brother?”
Satan wants us to hide our weakness–by fixing it, running away, or destroying it.
Ever since then we have been trying to hide our weakness. The Passion narrative we just heard repeats the old story about the many ways that we hide our weakness.
What are some of the ways?
Peter used boasting, “I will never leave you !”
And pride, “you won't wash my feet.”
Peter used a sword but everyone knows a bully is really just insecure, weak.
Then Peter resorted to lies, “I do not know the man.”
What do you use to cover up your weakness?
Some of them ran away. Some slept. We can become perfectionists and control freaks about things that don't matter–just to stay away from our weakness in things that do matter. Do you point out other people's weaknesses to take the attention off your own (like I'm doing right now!)? Do you create a big hysteria about nothing so people won't see what you feel is really wrong–that you are weak? Judas tried to make more money–you can cover up everything if you have enough money. Sometimes we are willing to admit we are weak…just as long as we have a chance to earn forgiveness first and distract people with our strength (so that we don't appear to be so we weak).
What's wrong with covering up my weakness? What else would I do with my weakness? Trust? But then that serpentine voice returns, saying “Be careful! You can't trust people too much. They let you down. You can't trust in obedience–you have to be realistic you know?? You can't trust your parents or your superiors or your brothers or sisters. They've already proven they will let you down. If you trust you just get hurt. Take the offensive instead. The best defense is a good offense. And you certainly can't trust God–He is Almighty. He doesn't understand weakness. He will reject your weakness.”
God responds to weakness with love
But Jesus pleads “I thirst!” He is so weak.
The Passion of Christ is God's response to our weakness. He embraces it by loving it, sharing it, supporting it–all the way to the end.
Weakness is not the ugly, horrible thing that needs to be hidden. Rather, the ugly horrible thing is the lack of trust that prevents our weakness from being loved. That's the ugly thing. Judas was not ugly so much for his betrayal but for his suicide. He chose to destroy his weakness rather than to let Jesus love it.
Trust means “to let Jesus love our weakness.”
Faith means “we believe He always will.”
Sometimes we think that everything depends on how well we love Him. But we fail to love Him so often. We fail to carry out our duty, we fail to love our neighbor. And when we try to love Him and we fail we just want it to go away. Sometimes we even just want God to go away so that we don't have to face our failure, our weakness.
Maybe there is a little feeling of relief after the Passion. We think, “Finally He's dead! That voice will finally stop calling out, “Where are you? Where is your brother?” Now I can just forget it. I can just cover up my shame with the latest trendiest animal skins and walk out of Paradise and forget the whole thing. I'll just make my way on my own. It was all a bit too idealistic anyway.”
And Jesus lets us walk away.
But as long as we eventually stop running, He will come to find us, showing up behind our locked doors and showing us He doesn't hate our weakness. He never did. “Peace be with you!” And He shows His wounds. He knows what it's like to be weak. He loves our weakness. He just wanted us to trust Him. To say to Him, “I'm sorry. I'm weak. I need your help.”
The path of Peter can become our path as well. Peter covered his weakness with lies when he was next to a charcoal fire. That charcoal fire appears again on the shore of Tiberius and Peter again has the opportunity to cover his weakness. But instead he chooses to be honest–not boasting, not proud, not lying. When Jesus asks, “Do you love me with a divine love (agape), Peter?” Peter responds humbly, “Lord you know everything. You know I love you with only a human (weak, imperfect) love.” Jesus accepts this and tells Peter, “'Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.' He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, 'Follow me.'” In other words, “You will become weaker and weaker, but you will let me be your strength. That will glorify me and it will perfect your love.”
God doesn't despise our weakness. He loves us and He loves our weakness. We don't need to cover it up. We just need to trust. To take the hand He reaches out to us and let Him pick us up again. He won't let us down. We can trust Him.
There is no weakness that He will not share.
There is no weakness that His strength will not support.
There is no weakness that He will not mercifully embrace.
Will we take the risk of trusting Him again? With all our hearts? Trusting Him enough
to expose our weakness, not hide it,
to give it to Him, not destroy it,
to let Him heal us, not just try to fix ourselves?
Jesus held on to our weakness all the way to the end. “It is finished.” He shows us that He identifies with our ultimate weakness, death, and He breathes His last. But it's not the end. If we choose to trust Him and let Him hold us, our weaknesses will be shining with glory.
Homily given at St Emma Benedictine monastery Good Friday 2014