Contemplative Life, Liturgical Seasons

Above the Cries of the Crowd

Did Jesus “hear God” during his last days on Earth?  There are only two times in the synoptic Gospels when the audible voice of God is heard and recorded—Jesus’ Baptism and the Mount of Transfiguration.  It is worth noting that both times the Father’s voice says essentially the same thing, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

There is no such account of a voice during Holy Week:  No voice confirming the triumphal entry, nothing commending Jesus during the last supper, nothing comforting in the garden of Gethsemane, no consolation on the Cross.  Surely, if there had ever been a time when a son needed to hear about the well pleased love of his father, it was then.  Instead, what are very audible during those last days are the fickle cries of the crowd.  From the “Hosannas” of Palm Sunday, to the “Crucify Him” of Good Friday, the voice of the crowd, unlike the voice of God, is never more audible than during Jesus’ final days. 

So, how did Jesus do it? How did he reach the point in his life where he could declare, “It is finished”?  The place where the purposes of God had served the people of God, through him?  While there is no way to answer that question fully, there is one place that certainly gives us a glimpse.  It is easy to feel so familiar with the Mount of Olives as a key location within the Gospels, that we can forget that this particular location is not mentioned a single time in the synoptic gospels, except during the final stage of Jesus’ life. 

When it was time for Jesus’ “last stand” with Jerusalem, where the voice of the crowd was deafening, the Mount of Olives functioned for Jesus as a regular place of: 

  1. Preparation (Luke 19:29 & 37) 
  2. Rest (Luke 21:37) 
  3. Prayer (Luke 22:39). 

Once you look through this lens, a very clear pattern emerges. Jesus prepares to face the crowds in Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.  Every night after teaching in the temple he rests at the Mount of Olives.  And, after his betrayal, Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives to pray.  In a word, the Mount of Olives was for Jesus a place of retreat.

Over the last three months, a number of community leaders and I organized a group of youth for an extended conversation on “Faith & Media” which we called Crucial Conversations.  During the season of Lent, we challenged these youth to forty days of digital fasting.  In order not to find myself  “tying up heavy burdens” while “not lifting a finger,” I too embraced this challenge.  For the last six weeks, Sunday’s aside, I have not dedicated time to the consumption of news until after my youngest children are in bed. 

I had vaguely wanted to try a news fast for some time, but now after six weeks, it is crystal clear I needed one.  The news functions very much like the “cries of the crowd” in my life.  To be clear, Jesus paid attention to the voice of the crowd, and so should we.  We can learn from, be blessed by, and even be moved by the voice of the crowd.  But Jesus never allowed the crowd’s voice to become the compass by which his life was directed, and neither can we.

Also during this same time, I have made monthly attempts at a 24-hr retreat at Corhaven.  I say “attempts” because the demands of life don’t always submit to my plans.  Nonetheless, multiple times in the last three months, I have taken the time to retreat—turning down the knob on the voice of the crowd in my life, so as to tune into the voice of God through preparation, rest, and prayer.

I’d love to tell you that because I have gone on a few 24-hr retreats and limited my news consumption recently, the voice of the crowd no longer directs my life, but I still have a long way to go.  I hope, though, that Dallas Willard is right when he tells us in his book Hearing God, “only our communion with God provides the appropriate contexts for communications between us and him.”  Making more space to commune with God these past six weeks has created more space for me to hear his voice above that of the crowd.

So, did Jesus “hear God” during the last days of his life on earth?  The only honest answer is, we don’t know.  What we do know though is essential:  Jesus communed with God during the last days of his life on earth in deep, consistent, and profound ways:  He made space for God.  And, having reached his “it is finished” line, Jesus found one last way to point to his favorite place to rise above the voice of the crowd; he completed his earthly life and ascended into heaven, from– where else?– the Mount of Olives.

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