To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 50:4-7; Phil2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23:56
The parents of a young boy in a Private school were at their wits end about what to do with their child. He was failing in all subjects and no amount of coercion, rewards, or gifts, could effect any change. They consulted many of their friends and relatives. They took the child to Psychologists and academicians but, to no avail. Finally, one of their relatives suggested that they send their son to a school run by the Jesuits. Since they had tried every other means, and since they did not think the child could get any worse, they enrolled him in the local school run by the Jesuits. After the first semester results were out, the parents were pleasantly surprised to find that their son had not only passed in all subjects, but had topped the class in three of the six subjects that he was studying. They rushed to the school to thank the Jesuit Principal whom they thought was responsible for the change. The Principal accepted the praise as humbly as he could. He then called the boy to his office to find out from him the reason for this dramatic change. When the boy was asked the reason, he looked up at the Crucifix hanging in the Principal’s office and said, “When I looked up at that man hanging on the Cross, I got scared because I knew that you were serious about things and I decided not to take any chances.”
The man hanging on the Cross is what Passion Sunday is all about. This Sunday is also called Palm Sunday, since palm branches are distributed. However, the focus is on the betrayal, arrest, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus rather than on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem just before his death. Passion / Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week in which the Church commemorates the Last Supper and the first Eucharist on Holy Thursday. Christ’s death on Good Friday, and the resurrection on Easter Sunday. By identifying ourselves with the ‘mystery’ of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, we ourselves experience a great liberation, a ‘Passover’ from various forms of sin and enslavement to a life of joy and freedom.
The Passion narrative in Luke, read in this year, begins with the Last Supper. During the meal, three significant events take place, all of which are connected with what happens in the rest of the narrative. The first is the prediction of betrayal by Judas, the second is the teaching on greatness, and the third is the prediction of Peter’s denial. With regard to the betrayal, it must be remembered that being a participant at the last supper must be remembered that being a participant at the last supper will not protect one or absolve one from the act of treachery. Judas must accept responsibility for his action. This is, therefore, true for all those disciples who think that they are greater than others, and for Peter who vehemently denies that he will deny. The followers must accept responsibility for their failings. These acts are the exact opposite of Jesus’ attitude of service and fidelity which are so powerfully brought out in the narrative.
Jesus was able to have these attitudes because of his being in constant touch with God and, even now, in this hour of crisis, he turns first, not to humans for consolation, but to God. The first part of the prayer is for what Jesus wants, but the second, the conclusion, is for what God wants. Jesus will state, clearly and unambiguously, his own need for deliverance, but he will not forget to add that, to do God’s will is his final aim. On the surface level, it might have seemed more conducive to be delivered from trial and tribulation, to be delivered from the Cross and delivered from ignominy, shame, and death. However, at the deeper level, it was infinitely better that Jesus embrace the Cross in order to gain victory over death and to be born to new life.
Jesus is serene and calm when he is arrested and even reaches out to heal the servant whose right ear was cut off in the melee. This is the effect of prayer. The effect of his prayer also sustains him before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod. Jesus will not be cowed, browbeaten, or intimidated. He will stand for what he believes in. He will stand for the truth. Even if it means that he is not understood, even if it means that he is abused, and even if it means that he is condemned to death, he will continue to hold his head high. He will not be overcome with self-pity. He will not be defeated. This is why his last words, before he breathes his last, are to commend his Spirit into God’s care.
The veil of the Temple being torn in two, the Centurion proclaiming Jesus’ innocence, and the people going to their homes beating their breasts, all these occurrences point to the fact that true worship is now, no longer in the Temple but, on the Cross. They point to the fact that, in death is victory, and that only in dying is there the possibility of new life. They point to the fact that the man who hangs on the Cross is not someone of whom we should be scared. They point to the fact that the Cross is no longer a symbol of fear or defeat, but a symbol of victory forever.