Path of Descent
The Paschal Mystery
Sunday, October 16, 2016
The path of descent, or the pattern of falling upward, is found throughout the Bible. Jacob’s son, Joseph, is thrown into the well by his own brothers and then rescued (Genesis 37:20-28). The prophet Jeremiah is thrown into a cistern by the civil leaders after he preaches retreat and defeat, and he is rescued by a eunuch (Jeremiah 38:6-13). Jonah is swallowed by a whale and then spit up on the right shore (Jonah 2:1-11). The people of Israel are sent into exile in Babylon and then released and allowed to return home by Cyrus, the King of Persia (2 Chronicles 36:15-23). Enslavement and exodus is the great lens through which Jewish history is read.
Add to that the story of Job as one unjustly but trustfully suffering and restored (Job 42:9-17), and the four “Servant songs” of Isaiah 42-53, describing one who suffers in a way that is vicarious, redemptive, and life-giving for others. The Jewish psyche and expectation are gradually formed by these stories and images. Clearly they were known by Jesus, and he evidently sees himself as representing this pattern.
For example, three times in Mark’s Gospel Jesus makes clear that this is his destiny. “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mark 8:31). However, this pattern of falling and rising is either misunderstood or rejected by the apostles themselves (Mark 8:32 ff., 9:30 ff., 10:32 ff.), just as you and I reject and fear any language of descent.
The pattern of down and up, loss and renewal, enslavement and liberation, exile and return, transformation through darkness and suffering is quite clear in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus says, “no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah” (Luke 11:29). Jonah in the belly of the whale is a metaphor for what would later become the doctrine of the cross.
The theological term for this classic pattern of descent and ascent was coined by Saint Augustine as “the paschal mystery.” We now proclaim it publicly at every Eucharist as “the mystery of faith”!
Gateway to Silence:
The way up is down.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2008), 187-188.