For many years, I used to wonder why we speak of being saved by the Passion of Our Lord. It seemed an odd thing to say. I could more easily see how the miracles and healings, and the divine teaching of Jesus, might be important for our salvation. His miracles reveal his divinity to us and help us to make an act of faith in him, while his teachings guide us on the path to heaven. And we know, of course, that it is indeed the whole of Christ’s life – his Incarnation, birth, ministry, death and resurrection – that saves us. Still, why is it that we speak of his Passion as the focus and centre of this saving work?
I was initially helped to understand something of this through reading a remarkable book, The Stature of Waiting by W.H.Vanstone. The author had become interested in a strange detail in the Gospels: the fact that the Greek word used to describe Judas’ act was not the usual word for betrayal, but a distinctive word, ‘paradidomi’, meaning ‘to hand over’. Of thirty-three occasions when Judas’ deed is mentioned, only once does a Gospel writer refer to Judas as a ‘traitor’. The consistency with which the verb ‘handed over’ is used points us to the centrality and to the importance of this concept. ‘He was handed over’ clearly marks the beginning of the Passion.