“Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended?” asks the old hymn. In other words, “what have you done wrong?” To deserve such a cruel sentence as this?
I’ll tell you.
First, you have this way of turning up. As an inconvenient pregnancy. As a threat to political establishment. As a challenge to religious authority. As a riddler, writing in the dirt, a self-invited dinner guest, and a familiar friend of unsavory characters. After the execution, you even turned up alive and inside — behind locked doors and shuttered windows. And you have this way of showing up in our hearts still.
Secondly, your unconventional lessons defied logic. You said the secret to happiness was being poor, hungry, hated, and sad. “Blessèd,” was your word for it (weird choice). And you were a provocateur. You handed out “woes” also, but your list made powerful enemies out of the wrong people — wealthy and powerful ones. You gave goats a complex when you warned they’d be culled out. And your final object lesson with the basin and the towel flipped the whole teacher-servant thing. We’re still trying to figure that one out.
Lastly — and this may have been your biggest offense — you said you were God’s son. You played with holy scripture like you’d written it, and even managed to somehow write yourself back into it. The skill and knowledge with which you healed people’s bodies, or restored not only their senses, but their lives, confuses people even today. And your tricks of walking on water, calming the sea, or knowing where the fish were seemed suspicious. Worst of all, you presumed the power to forgive sin. Who do you think you are?
It seems, therefore, that when you were betrayed (by one of your own) and received this death sentence, it was because all these little offenses tallied up. Didn’t they? And yet you remained true to yourself, forgiving all the way to the end.
But not to Your end, holy Jesus.
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.
Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
not my deserving.
Text: Johann Heermann (1630); Translator: Robert Bridges (1897)
Tune: Herzliebster Jesu, Johann Crüger (1640)
This artful arrangement for piano: John Carter (1989)