Jesus Was “Handed Over” Action Ended and The Passion Began

Rev. Jim Carr, Minister of Pastoral Care

My intent is to share with you Henri Nouwen’s thoughts on a spirituality of waiting. We’ve looked at how he suggests that we wait for God, but he also says God waits for us. This is the subject of my next articles. It is important to recall the context, a conversation between Nouwen and a friend. His friend was terminally ill with cancer and asked, “Help me to understand what it means that now all sorts of people are doing things to me over which I have no control.” Nouwen’s title for today’s section is “From Action to Passion.”

Nouwen says, “The central word in the story of Jesus’ arrest is one I never thought much about. It is ‘to be handed over.’ That is what happened in Gethsemane. Jesus was handed over. Some translations say that Jesus was ‘betrayed,’ but the Greek says, ‘to be handed over.’ Judas handed Jesus over (see Mark 14:10).”

I checked this out in my New Testament Greek sources. It is true. An interesting and illuminating variant meaning is the use of this word as a term referring to police and courts, to “hand over” into the custody of the authorities. This was one of the objections many in the first century had to saying that Jesus was the Messiah. How could a person who was handed over, tried, and executed as a criminal possibly be God’s chosen one?

In fact, Nouwen says, “this word, ‘to be handed over,’ plays a central role in the life of Jesus. Indeed, this drama of being handed over divides the life of Jesus radically in two. The first part of Jesus’ life is filled with activity. Jesus takes all sorts of initiatives. But immediately after Jesus is handed over, he becomes the one to whom things are being done. Things are being done to him over which he has no control. [My italics] That is the meaning of passion—being the recipient of other people’s initiatives.”

Most of us know the experience of having no control and being recipients of other people’s initiatives. For example, I have had several surgeries. From the moment I put on a hospital gown and climb onto a gurney, I have no control. The medical team is in total charge of my going from prep, to surgery, to recovery. So it was with Jesus, from his arrest, to his trial, to the crucifixion. He was in the custody and under the control of the authorities. But he had to do this to fulfill his vocation.

Nouwen: “Passion is a kind of waiting—waiting for what other people are going to do.” But it is not only Jesus who was waiting in this way. God was waiting too, waiting for people to reveal their hearts by what they chose to do. All this talk of action, passion, and waiting is relevant to us. Stay with me. More on this next week.