The Passion’s Disciples

“…they ran…”

When believers examine this period of Christ’s life, the emphasis is often one of suffering and the excruciating pain that Christ endured in the form of beatings and bearing the Cross.  He was mocked, He was tortured, He was publicly denounced, He was rejected by His own people.

More than that, however, He was left utterly alone by those He loved.

It can be easy to overlook this fact.  Jesus is strong, He is the Son of God—He has the power to create worlds and to destroy them.  No doubt He had an attractive personality in His earthly life, gauged by the crowds who thronged to see Him. But on the darkest night of His life, all those who had been closest to Him deserted Him.  None was strong enough, or righteous enough, to stand with Him in His death.  Jesus’ intimate world—not just the crowds or His enemies, but those who loved Him personally—failed Him in His greatest hour of need.

Couldn’t you have just stayed awake a little longer, Nathanael?  Why are you sleeping, Matthew?  Will you not pray with me, James? 

There is something to be said about this aspect of Christ’s suffering.  It isn’t just that He suffered and bled and died for the sins of the world.  He also did it all alone.  Imagine the loneliest moment you have ever experienced in your life.  Consider the darkest night you have ever spent on earth.  Recall the betrayal and abandonment of trusted friends.  Jesus knows the depth of your sorrow, and more.  Jesus knows exactly how you feel—and may be the only one qualified.

My own experience of loneliness was a struggle of growing out of childhood that perhaps many can relate to.  My sixth grade year, the private school I had attended for the last three years chose to restructure its curriculum and expand the junior high to include sixth grade.  This left a great many students and parents unhappy, and that year my class dwindled from over thirty to fourteen.  In an instant, it seemed, everything had changed.  And while I had come to know most of these kids in the last few years, this last year at that school proved to be my loneliest.

I took a shot at student council and failed.  Friends I thought I knew decided their time could be spent better with others more charismatic.  My closest friend radically changed, and quickly became the lackey of the most popular person in the class.  Everyone I thought I knew had either turned on me or gone their merry way.  And while it can be easy—perhaps for me easiest of all—to dismiss childhood experiences like these with “adult reasoning”, for many it is these experiences that have the power to shape us, or at least stick with us, well into adulthood.  I can’t remember many of the names of many passing acquaintances through the years who did me no harm, but I can remember the names of these children clearly even now.

I felt rejected, alone, cut off and cast out.  I tried to be friendly, but no one cared.  I tried to talk, but no one listened.  I tried to be funny, but no one laughed.  I tried to be accepted and only failed.

But if there is any lesson I learned during that time in my life, it is that staying focused on myself is the loneliest way to travel.  In my loneliness I learned that I was not alone, but there are others on the outside, others who have themselves been rejected and set aside and misunderstood.  In my loneliness I learned that only by becoming lonely could I connect with the lonely.  In my loneliness I learned that God’s greatest cure for rejection is to accept others that have been rejected.

And that’s how we made it through the year.  There were about four or five of us who banded together and supported each other during that time.  We weren’t popular, but we were accepted.  We weren’t charismatic, but we were friends.  We weren’t elite, but we were real.  And I learned that sometimes God has to take me out of myself before I can find myself.

Certainly Jesus’ example is a reflection of this.  How did He overcome loneliness?  How did He focus on His task with no one to help Him?  How did He endure the pain even in being forsaken?

It’s because of you and me.  It’s because we were the prize He set His eyes on.  It’s because we were lonely and rejected and needy.  Jesus stepped out of what was personally gratifying for Him so that He could gratify us.  And every time we feel we face a burden or situation or enemy on our own, every time we feel like we are misunderstood and maligned and marginalized, we must remember that He has made the promise.  He will never leave us or forsake us.

And it isn’t a blessing only for us.  Jesus accepted us so that we could accept others on His behalf.  He gave to us so that we could give to others in His name.  He loved us so that we could love others by His immaculate grace.

When we remember the Passion, we must remember that when others run, He is there.  We must also remember that when others are run from and forsaken, He desires to be there for them through us.

John 14-17 is Jesus’ love letter to the loneliness in our lives.  Listen.

—Mark Knoles

Maxim of the Moment

Love is made sweet by compliments; not commands.