After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Jews began plotting in earnest to put Jesus to death. The high priest Caiaphas announced that “it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.”
The holy evangelist St John tells us that when the Jewish leaders plotted to kill Him, “Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews.” What does this mean? First, it means that he actually hid Himself; for John tells us that Jesus left Jerusalem and “went into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples” until he entered triumphantly on Palm Sunday.
Yet there is also a spiritual meaning. That “Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews” means that He also hid deeply His divinity. No more feeding of multitudes, no more healing the sick, no more resurrections—in fact, no more miracles did He do, except healing the ear of Malchus on the night of His betrayal. It is not that He could not do miracles. Rather, Jesus hid His divinity—hid His power, His glory, His majesty—until it would be revealed in a most profound way, until His coronation on the cross. Then He would be crowned with thorns; then He would ascend His throne; for then He would be glorified by the Father.
As you may know, I serve a parish that follows not the Greek or Russian tradition, but the Western tradition. In the Western tradition, today begins that part of Lent that we call “Passiontide.” Last evening, as Passiontide began, we hid all our crosses and icons and other images with opaque violet veils. For us, the fast of the mouth now also becomes a fast of the eyes.
Like all liturgical traditions, Eastern and Western, the veiling of the crosses is not done for no reason. It is directly linked to the final weeks of Our Lord’s life, and particularly to this time when Our Blessed Lord no longer walks openly, when He hides His divinity.
This simple custom urges us to look beyond what Our Lord looks like on the cross, to look beyond His gentleness and vulnerability, and even to look beyond our notions of strength and power. For the Jesus we see in these last few weeks will not conform to our standard of maniless and strength.
These days, we are impressed with a show of force. We are impressed when men and women stand up for their rights; when they vigorously defend themselves against false accusations; when they defiantly argue that they have been maligned. And we are impressed with hitting someone strong and hard; with striking back with overwhelming power.
Yet that is not the picture we will see with our Jesus. That is not how He will resist the devil, or overcome the chief priests, or defeat all powers of darkness. His power will be veiled in defenselessness. His strength will be hidden in weakness. He will not defend Himself, or speak up for Himself. Instead, He will let them do what they wish to Him.
Yet it will be on His terms; in the way the prophets have predicted; at the hour He chooses. And that is true power. Our holy father among the saints Peter Chrysologus says it with these words:
“Jesus willed to suffer since of His own accord He went up to the place where He would suffer. Death has sway over the unwilling, but is the servant of those who are willing. Therefore, since He is willing to die, it is not a mishap but an act of power. He Himself says, ‘I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it up. No one take [my life] from Me.’ Where there is the power to lay down life and to take it up again, dying in this case is not something inevitable, but something that is willed.
“So death was not able to take His life away, nor was the underworld able to hold onto Him, since it trembled at His bidding, and lost even those souls it was holding in captivity. For St Matthew says [that when Jesus died], ‘The tombs were split open and many of the bodies of the saints rose up.’”
Now that is true power—the power to raise the dead even as He dies; the power to command heaven and earth to do His bidding as He passes away; and the power to kill death by being swallowed up by death.
Jesus tells us that when this happens—when He is lifted up on the cross, when His true power and glory are revealed—then He will draw all men to Himself.
Be impressed, then, with the Lord Jesus who does not walk openly. Be impressed with the One who wills to be weak and to suffer for your salvation. And, most of all, be impressed with Him who will hide His divinity so deeply during the last days of His life that He will trick the devil into believing that death has defeated life—when, in fact, Life Himself, by dying, will destroy death.
Let this power—this power that is looks so weak—let it draw you close to Him. For this is the power of the martyrs. By urging the lions to crush his bones like wheat, St Ignatius overpowered his captors. It is also this power that the non-martyred saints tapped into. For by putting to death her desires, by weakening her body with fasting, St Mary of Egypt became strong and power—not only in her day, but also now as our advocate and intercessor before God the Father.
By the prayers St Mary of Egypt and of the saints, may we be attracted, then, not by a show of force, not by those who stand up for themselves, but by Him who willingly, humbly and gladly takes up His cross, and suffers our weakness to death, so that He might overcome. Let the Jesus who is hidden in these next few weeks draw us closer to Him so that when His glory is fully revealed on Pascha, we may rejoice with exceeding joy!
To this Lord Jesus, whose strength is in weakness, be all glory, honor and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.