“Jesus humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8)
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24.
Today is known as Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, or Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. In today’s long Gospel reading we hear of Jesus celebrating the Last Supper on the night before he dies, his trials before the governor and king, his suffering, and finally his death by crucifixion.
On this Sunday, after five weeks of preparation we now enter the highpoint of Lent, what we call ‘Holy Week.’ From today until Mass this Thursday night (known as the ‘Mass of the Lord’s Supper’), the Church celebrates Holy Week. This week, therefore, sees the climax of Jesus’ mission on earth, in which the deepest meaning of his life is unfolded.
In today’s Mass readings, we hear how much Jesus loves us. In the second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians he says that Jesus, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … humbling himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). Then, in the Gospel from Saint Matthew, we hear that Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of his close disciples, before being unjustly condemned to death, while Saint Peter denied knowing him, and the people chose to spare the guilty murderer, Barabbas, over him. Then we hear how Jesus was scourged and crowned with thorns, then forced to carry his own cross to the site of his execution, where he was brutally nailed to the cross, and hung until he died a most excruciating death. And why? All for love of you and me!
Throughout all this suffering what does Jesus do? He does not strike back, he does not scold, he does not accuse or blame. He begs his Father to forgive those who “do not know what they are doing.” Jesus seems to be the victim but all through he is, in fact, the master. He is master of the situation because he is master of himself and offers himself in self-sacrificial love to the Father for our forgiveness.
As we enter this Holy Week, let us look carefully at Jesus our Saviour. We watch, not just to admire, but to learn, to penetrate the mind, the thinking, the attitudes and the values of Jesus so that we, in the very different circumstances of our own lives, may walk in his footsteps.
If we are to be his disciples, he invites us to walk his way, to share his sufferings, to imitate his attitudes, to “empty” ourselves, to live in service of others—in short, to love others as he loves us. This is not at all a call to a life of pain and misery. Quite the contrary, it is an invitation to a life of deep freedom, peace and happiness. If it were anything else, it would not be worth considering.
Artwork: ‘The Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saints John and Mary Magdalen’ by Mathieu Le Nain (1607-1677).
(Copyright © 2017).