Media presentations often want to portray the passion of Jesus in much detail, yet as exegetes tell us, there are only three brief references to it in the passion account today: First—his sweat became like drops of blood (Lk. 22:44), second—the men who held Jesus in custody were…beating him (Lk. 22:63), and third—they crucified him (Lk. 23: 33). We are told further that the attention seems to be more on how the passion has and will affect our lives. Diane Bergant, scripture scholar, suggests that Paul’s beautiful hymn of praise to the Philippians seems the best way for us to understand Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection—while he does not minimize it; he also doesn’t spend undo time depicting it. Rather, Paul really explains the suffering to us and tells us what it means. What happened to Jesus on Calvary and on the way there, happened because Jesus allowed it to happen, Bergant goes on to say.
Paul tells us that Jesus emptied himself, he took the condition of a slave—he humbled himself—he gave up all that was divine to be completely one with us. That is something that can’t be minimized—he gave up everything to be one with us. We need to remember this especially when suffering comes to us—we are not alone—our brother Jesus stands with us, as Paul says, he knows all that we have suffered.
In the society in which Jesus lived; he spoke out too powerfully—he questioned power that lorded it over the poor, the downtrodden, the women and the children—he lived and taught boldly that justice for all was a must—not just reserved for the high-born and privileged—or for the priestly class. For those in Jesus’ time who didn’t like the message; death was the only way to silence such a voice. In our day, Pope Francis has boldly spoken out during his papacy with much the same message as our brother Jesus—we must pray that he continue to extend his reach for real change in our Church for women, for our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, ultimately, for us all—because when there is justice for all, then we all benefit—when there isn’t justice for all, we can’t nor should we enjoy justice ourselves—in other words, we should be convicted in our hearts and never cease striving for the good of all.
Bergant reminds us that the people who carried out Jesus’ execution attempted to humiliate him, but that he never lost his dignity. We see that he experienced his humanity fully, asking that the cup he was about to bear be taken from him—yet in the end; he would be faithful to what was ahead of him. Those who wanted him silenced thought his death would do that once and for all—but little did they know or understand—that the truth cannot be silenced. Out of pain and suffering come new life and glory.
This truth is a message we must always remember during Holy Week—we can’t get stuck in the death but must always see it in the light of the resurrection. So while there is sadness in Jesus’ death—we must remember that it is only through death that new life can come—this is really a message for not just the Easter Season, but for all time.
Each of us has a span of time upon the earth—there is birth and death and all the wonderful and perhaps not so wonderful life experiences that come in between. Each of us knows this and has experienced it in our own lives, especially as we have lost loved ones. We don’t always understand death—the why and when of it. We are not always ready to lose a mate of many years, parents, or close friends. Most people in fact, are not ready for such a significant change. There is clearly a disconnect for us in our heads and hearts—often it takes a while for the two to catch up with each other.
Jesus lived his seemingly short adult years no doubt with the knowledge that taking a certain course, living and speaking a certain way, would bring him to his physical end that we know as Good Friday. He was a man of his times—he was well-versed in the Scriptures of the First Testament—he probably prayed Isaiah’s words many times before, knowing that they, as others, would be fulfilled in him—“God gave him a well-trained tongue to speak the truth in a way that would sustain the lowly,” and for those words, he would suffer because truth isn’t always well-received by those in power. Power can corrupt and blind those who hold it; blind them to the truth that each creature no matter how small and powerless, is as wonderful in God’s eyes as the most powerful. It would seem that Pope Francis has a sense of this and we have seen him act in this regard in his first three years as pope.
And in all of this there is hope—our loving God does not miss the way the servant, Jesus or the way we as his followers are at times called to suffer. Isaiah tells us today—the Most High is always there to support us as Jesus was and therefore as he was not dishonored nor shamed, neither will we be when we speak the truth—true power comes from that—not that we would lord it over others, but raise them up to new life.
Even Psalm 22 which is always used during Holy Week and is basically a “crying out” to God about the suffering and the seeming absence of God in the midst of the horrible things being done, has a hope-filled ending—we will praise God because God is always there—God never leaves us. In fact, as Elizabeth Johnson, in her book, Quest for the Living God, says so well, “Whenever persons are caught in the grip of unjust suffering, where the life of the multitudes is throttled, gagged, slain or starved, there the Holy One is to be found, in gracious solidarity with the poor, calling the oppressors to conversion, giving birth to courage for protest, struggling to bring life out of death.” I find her words very hopeful in that it speaks of a God who is compassionate—who sees the suffering, is there to comfort, but also to challenge those who abuse others to change and become their best selves—to likewise give strength to those who are called to speak a word of truth, of challenge.
The first two readings as well begin with suffering, but end in trust. Exegetes looking at these scriptures tell us that this is how we should frame Holy Week—recognize the suffering, but hold it in the context of trust in our loving God. Life is about making choices—the gift of free-will. The choices have consequences though—Jesus’ crucifixion happened as a direct result of his following his calling to raise up the lowly—to bring balance back—to make justice flow throughout the land. It would seem this is the job ahead for Pope Francis. We must all pray for him to have the courage and strength to follow our brother, Jesus. We must all pray for each other that we won’t be complacent in our lives as we face our world—that we won’t just see the suffering, but do what we can to bring change, to bring justice, to bring compassion as the Dalai Lama has been advocating in his recent visit to Minnesota.
On this weekend celebrating Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem which really speaks to his triumphal entry into human existence; we are praying today for those in our midst living with Down Syndrome—the actual national day of remembrance is Monday, March 21st this year. Julie and Fred Gruber and their family have come once again to share their son, grandson and brother Simon with us and to be witnesses—yet another manifestation of our God with us. We are grateful Fred and Julie that you and your family can be with us to raise our awareness.
And at this point I would invite us to extend our hands in blessing to Simon and to his family asking for all the help they need to raise and be family to him.
May the blessings of our God be upon you, we bless you in the name of our God. May the blessings of our God be upon you—we bless you in the name of our God.
My friends, if we truly wish to follow Jesus’ lead, life calls us to see the faces of our God around us, in those we may see as different—in the poor, the down-trodden, the abused, all those who suffer unjustly and not just see them, but act in ways that can make change for the better in their lives. And as we do this work, call for justice; we can expect that people won’t always understand, won’t always appreciate our actions. But we can also live with the knowledge that we are in good company and as the readings proclaim today; we will not be alone in this endeavor—our loving God will stand with us. May your Holy Week be blessed!