Today is the start of the Holy Week that leads us to the summit of the liturgical year, the Paschal Triduum, commemorating Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Palm Sunday gives us abundant material to ponder for this week. As Pope Francis points out, today’s liturgy presents us with opposite extremes – from joyful acclamations at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem to humiliation and brutal torture. We are being invited to ponder in our hearts the whole sweep of the paschal mystery as we journey with Jesus through these holy days. Since we are in Year C, when the Gospels are taken from St. Luke, today we will focus on some of the details that are unique to Luke.
The account of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which we reenact in the Palm Sunday procession, comes at the beginning of today’s liturgy. A unique detail in Luke’s account is Jesus’ striking response to the Pharisees, who were complaining that his disciples deserved to be rebuked for praising him as “the king who comes in the name of the Lord” and for giving glory to God on his account. Jesus says to them: “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” The Pharisees are jealous of their authority over the practice of religion, especially in Jerusalem. Probably they are also concerned about not stirring up any reaction from the Romans, who could be suspicious of any crowd – and any procession that looks too much like the welcome of a victorious conqueror.
Jesus shows that he is looking far beyond temporal human affairs. His arrival is not meant as a threat to the Pharisees or to the Romans. What his disciples are proclaiming is true: the King of Heaven is here! All creation must welcome and glorify him: the plants (palm branches), the animals (the colt), and even the stones! If we do not give due glory to God, we will be surpassed by the rest of creation.
The jubilation of Palm Sunday quickly shifts to a somber focus on the Lord’s gruesome Passion and Death. But these are not in contradiction. Rather, our welcome of our Heavenly King allows us to penetrate more deeply the love and mercy that move him to accept his sufferings. In his Passion narrative, Luke includes several tender and merciful moments shown by the suffering Christ. One of these is Jesus’ encounter with “many women who mourned and lamented him.”
We can imagine how their being eyewitnesses of Jesus’ sufferings moved these women to tears. Here he was, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy that the “servant of the Lord” would suffer. Jesus was truly a man who gave his back to those who beat him and his cheeks to those who plucked his beard. He did not shield his face from buffets and spitting. Anyone with a compassionate heart would weep for him. But Jesus does not weep for himself, nor does he accept the laments of these Daughters of Jerusalem. Turning to them, he says, “Do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children.”
While we too mourn Jesus’ sufferings, we must not miss the lesson he gave to the women. The sufferings that he endured revealed what sin does to a human person. Sin makes us “take the form of a slave” instead of enjoying the freedom of being children of God. Sin does gruesome things to our souls, putting the image and likeness of God into a lamentable state. Jesus invites us to deep sorrow for our sins and the sins of humanity. From the Cross, Jesus pleads to the Father that we and all sinners may be forgiven: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” – another verse that is unique to Luke’s Gospel. As we enter into Holy Week, we weep for our sins and reflect on Jesus Christ as our one and true Mediator.
In addition to the women, Luke mentions Jesus’ interaction with another set of persons, the two criminals who were crucified with him. Criminals, then and now, are social outcasts. But Jesus shows the greatness of his mercy to them as well. After one of the criminals acknowledges his own guilt and rightly recognizes Christ’s innocence and kingship, he pleads: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Jesus assures him in the most merciful and kindest of words: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Such an undeserved and awesome gift! The suffering Christ offers us Paradise as he dies on the Cross. He wants us to learn from the example of this unnamed criminal. To be repentant of our guilt and to recognize Christ’s lordship in our lives is the path that will lead us to Paradise.
And as Jesus Christ dies on the Cross, Luke notes his last words: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” This is Obedience Incarnate! It is an act of total entrustment to the Father, with confidence in his help and knowledge that he will not allow his Son to be disgraced nor put to shame, as Isaiah prophesied. Obedience even to the point of death on the ignominious Cross is what St. Paul proclaims as the way to the greatest exaltation. The Way of Cross is the pathway to Paradise that Jesus has trod and has opened up for us all.
As we follow the Lord on his path of obedience and total surrender to the Father, we confess our faith “that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
How has the 40 days of Lent prepared me spiritually to follow Jesus to Calvary and to his death? How can I dispose myself to silent recollection during this Holy Week? In what ways am I willing to empty myself out of love for God and others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.