There is a terrifying vulnerability in how His arms are outstretched.
I’m not certain I had ever quite seen it that way before. At Sunday Mass, I was looking up at the large crucifix behind the altar and I was slightly fearful. That wide open heart, that vulnerable heart, that posture of being unable to defend oneself is what He wants from me. And it scares me.
A nail pierces each hand, fixing them in place. He is unable to shield Himself from anything: not the hurled insults, not the mockery, not the physical blows should it come to that. Briefly, I pictured myself unable to curl up into a ball to protect my heart, to shield my face. It was terrifying. I would not be simply defenseless before loved ones but before my enemies. That place of weakness seemed to be too much to bear. At least in the face of persecution and mockery, I like to appear to be strong and resilient.
And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself! (Luke 23:35-37)
The other day, I participated in a 40 Days for Life United rally outside the abortion clinic in my town. As we gathered for the rally and prayerful witness, the protesters of our rally began to laugh at us. It was mocking laugh and it stirred my heart. I was being laughed at and, strangely, it felt good. In the midst of it, I felt my pride was wounded and I wanted to defend myself. The experience took me back to my years in college where I would be pushed, ridiculed, and yelled at for defending all lives. It had been a while since I had heard that mocking laugh. Sometimes my students laugh at me, but it is never that derisive. For too long, I had been comfortable. Having my pride pierced reminded me that we are in a battle and that true humility sometimes means accepting insults without giving a defense.
Jesus was silent before Herod. He refused to give an explanation of who He was or what He was doing. In the face of unjust punishment, when Pilate washed his hands of any guilt, Jesus silently accepted being betrayed by those in the position to provide relief. As He walked the way of the cross, He experienced abandonment and suffering in their most intense forms by His closest friends. Hanging on the cross, arms outstretched, He continued to be merciful and vulnerable.
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
He never closed His heart. He never shrank within Himself so as to provide some semblance of safety. Always, to the very end, He is pouring Himself out as a libation. He is giving Himself entirely as the perfect sacrifice.
Yes, He is God, but I think He is calling me to attempt to mirror His response. What if I entered my classroom each day, with my arms wide open, not shielding myself from any of their sarcasm or teasing? What if I maintained that posture when it comes to my relationships with others? All of this done not out of a desire to be a pitiable victim, one who is walked on or discarded, but rather one who embraces each event in life with authenticity and an offering of my entire heart. What if I went in genuine, vulnerable, and open-hearted? What good might the Lord bring out of repeated encounters with a wide heart?
The very thought scares me. I like the comfort of safety and protection. I like the veil that can be drawn and lifted when I feel at ease. But one of the greatest gifts I can give is my very self. Jesus did not only offer Himself to His friends, but rather to those He knew would try to cross Him or betray Him. He invited Judas to share in the most intimate of meals and evenings, even knowing what the man would do.
In that all-too-familiar call to do what I do not want to do, the Lord desires for me to be simple-hearted in my approach to life. What I want to complicate, He reduces to utter simplicity: just be you and dwell in Me. Even if it does not transform the world, it will transform my heart, which is all the Lord wants of me.