CAC teacher Cynthia Bourgeault invites us to consider the meaning of the passion from a wisdom perspective, not as a spectator watching what Jesus did, but understanding what each of us is called to do:
The passion is really the mystery of all mysteries, the heart of the Christian faith experience. By the word “passion” here we mean the events which end Jesus’s earthly life: his betrayal, trial, execution on a cross, and death. . . .
The spectacle of an innocent and good man destroyed by the powers of this world is an archetypal human experience. It elicits our deepest feelings of remorse and empathy (and if we’re honest, our own deepest shadows as well). . . . It’s been used to stir anger and scapegoating. It’s been used to fuel anti-Semitism, to induce personal guilt—“Christ died for your sins”—and to arouse devotion in a sentimental and even fanatical way.
From a wisdom point of view, what can we say about the passion? . . . The key lies in . . . reading Jesus’s life as a sacrament: a sacred mystery whose real purpose is not to arouse empathy but to create empowerment. In other words, Jesus is not particularly interested in increasing either your guilt or your devotion, but rather, in deepening your personal capacity to make the passage into unitive life. If you’re willing to work with that wager, the passion begins to make sense in a whole new way. . . .
The path [Jesus] did walk is precisely the one that would most fully unleash the transformative power of his teaching. It both modeled and consecrated the eye of the needle that each one of us must personally pass through in order to accomplish the “one thing necessary” here, according to his teaching: to die to self. I am not talking about literal crucifixion, of course, but I am talking about the literal laying down of our “life,” at least as we usually recognize it. Our only truly essential human task here, Jesus teaches, is to grow beyond the survival instincts of the animal brain and egoic operating system into the kenotic joy and generosity of full human personhood. . . .
What is the meaning of the passion? First of all, God wasn’t angry. Again: God wasn’t angry! Particularly in fundamentalist theology, you’ll often hear it said that God got so fed up with the sins and transgressions of Israel that he demanded a human sacrifice in atonement. But of course, this interpretation would turn God into a monster. How can Jesus, who is love, radiate and reflect a God who is primarily a monster? And how can Christians theoretically progressing on a path of love consent to live under such a reign of terror? No, we need to bury once and for all those fear-and-punishment scenarios that got programmed into so many of us during our childhood. There is no monster out there; only love waiting to set us free.
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 104, 105–106, 107. Emphasis in original.