Holy Week: The Week Jesus Failed

THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW By Thomas J. Reese Holy Week is a challenging time for Christians because it reminds us that … Continued


By Thomas J. Reese

Holy Week is a challenging time for Christians because it reminds us that Jesus failed. That’s right, I said he failed.

This is especially emphasized in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus’ preaching is not accepted and his mission is a failure. In the Gospel of Mark, no one understands Jesus, not even the disciples. At the passion, Jesus is alone. The disciples fall asleep. He is betrayed by Judas. Peter denies him, and the young man runs away naked. Even the women do not approach the cross but stand at a distance.

The Roman and Jewish authorities condemn him of blasphemy and sedition. The bystanders mock him. He even appears to be abandoned by God. He prays at the beginning of the passion that this cup pass, but no answer is recorded. At the end, he pays “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And then he dies with a loud cry.

This is especially disconcerting to Americans who prize success. We believe we can do anything.

But the Gospel of Mark is not a gospel of success but of failure. If Mark’s Gospel were presented to movie producers in Hollywood, it would be sent for rewrite (which is actually what happened with Matthew and Luke who found Mark too much of a downer). “Why don’t we have the disciples break into the Praetorium and release him? Bruce Willis could play Peter. Or why not have Jesus give a brilliant speech at the trial and convert everyone?”

But the reality is that Jesus failed.

Mark’s Gospel for is losers, for people who feel abandoned by God. This is a Gospel for sinners, for people like the disciples who have abandoned Jesus. This is a gospel for people who understand their limitations. This is a gospel of failure unto death. This Gospel proclaims that Jesus had to suffer and die, and challenges us to take up our cross and follow Jesus. It does not guarantee success.

But this is also a gospel of hope because it reminds us that Jesus did not want to suffer any more than we do, but he went on. This is a gospel of hope because it shows that Jesus refused to give up even when he knew he would fail. This is a gospel of hope because it reminds us that even his closest disciples abandoned him like we do, but they were welcomed back. But most importantly, this is a gospel of hope because we know that it does not end on the cross, it does not end in failure, but in the resurrection. God would not let failure have the last word.

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is Senior Fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

By Thomas J. Reese | 
April 8, 2009; 10:57 AM ET

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  • Robert_B1

    Fr. Reese –Thanks for reminding me why hope is one of the theological virtues.

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