It is hard to read this portion of the Gospel without tears coming into my eyes. I think it’s Jesus saying, “Simon, Simon, listen!” that gets to me – it’s so urgent, so full of passion and hope. Jesus knows that he only has a few hours left, and that if his disciples are going to truly hear and understand, he must prepare them. They don’t understand him, not in this moment, but they try to interpret his urgency. Peter thinks that it’s about the coming trial, so he tries to reassure, to comfort. “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” But Jesus’ urgency isn’t about the crucifixion. It’s about the community that will come after, and how people must behave to each other if his death is going to have practical meaning in their lives.
I feel this same urgency when I think of my daughter. When I suffer, I don’t want her to suffer also. I don’t need her company as I go to my own cross. What I need is the hope that what I’ve tried to teach her will stick, that, despite my many foolish mistakes, I’ve raised her right, in the love and perseverance that will make her a good person and strengthen her relationship with God. If I were in Jesus’ place, and she and I were sharing our own last supper, I would do what he does, and try to get in a few last pieces of advice. I like to think that my prime concern would be for her, a concern born of love, and not for my own suffering, not for my own fear. I am probably wrong about my capacity for this, but it’s what I hope for, and that hope has its own spirit, its own way of forming and leading me.
Jesus’ hope is not for an individual, but for the community he’s been trying to build, a community that is fit to live in the Kingdom of God. He’s already described this community, multiple times. Now he, and the narrative, focus on three things that this community will have to embrace. It will have to be a community of servanthood, where people set aside their own needs and agendas to serve each other with love. It will be a community that is misunderstood and reviled, but also a community that won’t spend time trying to prove its worth to a world that doesn’t understand it, a world that sees it as a community of bandits. And it will have to be a community that stays awake, that doesn’t hide or turn away from suffering, but accepts suffering with the same clear eyes and open heart with which is also accepts joy.