Have you ever wondered why we call the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, torture, crucifixion, and death his “passion”? You haven’t? Oh, well then, you can probably skip today’s post. I know I have, and since it has been a while since we’ve had a patented Steve-Pankey-Speaks-From-Ignorance-Etymological-Study, let’s dive in.
Passion comes from the Latin word pati which means “to suffer.” According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the transition to mean “strong emotion or desire” didn’t occur until the late 14th century, but it seems to be the definition of preference some 700 years later. While it seems clear that originally, the title of Passion was used because of the suffering Jesus endured during those 18 or so hours, I’m intrigued by the double meaning the newer understanding of passion gives us.
The way Mark tells the story, it doesn’t seem as though Jesus has a whole lot of agency in the crucifixion. Other gospel writers spin the story differently, but in Mark, we hear Jesus praying to Abba that the cup from which he is to drink might be removed from his lips. There is no sparring with Pilate over who is in control of the situation, like we hear in John. And at the end, as Jesus cries out, it isn’t a word of completion, “It is finished,” but a cry of dereliction, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” that emanates forth. It would seem for Mark that the passion of our Lord is only about the suffering.
And yet, there are glimpses of Jesus’ deepest desires. As the unnamed woman anoints him for his death, Jesus praises her for “doing what she can” before his death. As Judas approaches with a cohort of Roman soldiers, it is Jesus who walks towards them, offering himself freely. When the Council can’t find two stories that match, it is Jesus’ own confession of I am, “ego emi,” that seals his fate. Through it all, it seems clear that Jesus could have stopped it from happening, but he chose to see it to the end, so that the world, through him, might be saved.
“The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve,” is the key verse to understanding Mark’s Gospel. It is also key to understanding Mark’s version of the Passion. In everything that happened that week, Jesus is serving the larger goal of inaugurating the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. That was his passion, his strongest desire, and that passion led him to the Passion, his suffering for the salvation of the world.