The powerful liturgy of Palm Sunday is both joyful and sorrowful: joyful as Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem, sorrowful as he suffers at the hands of his own people. At the beginning of the Mass we join the crowd, waving our palms and singing, Hosanna! God save the Son of David! Once we get to the proclamation of the Passion, we join the crowd shouting, Crucify him! Crucify him! While we would prefer to think of ourselves as people who will always cry Hosanna, we need to acknowledge that we also truly belong to those who wanted him crucified, for by our own sins, each of us is responsible for putting Jesus on the cross. “All sinners are the authors of Christ’s Passion” (CCC 598).
In the gospel Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answers, “As you say,” without making any further explanation. “As you say” also refers to us. Each of us has the responsibility of saying whether or not we acknowledge Jesus’ kingship. He will not impose himself on us. Simply because we come to church or wave our palms is no guarantee that we recognize Jesus as our King. In our hearts we may be serving someone or something else. Perhaps we are simply serving ourselves. Whom or what we are serving is one of the questions that must remain in our hearts throughout this Holy Week.
Today’s first reading prophecies that the Messiah will be a servant of the Lord whose attitude is one of complete surrender. He will not turn back, no matter what. He does not even shield his face from buffets and spitting, so strong is his confidence that he will not be put to shame. This is the spirit with which Jesus approaches his Passion. It also describes how we are called to respond to times of suffering, with complete trust in the Lord our King. In the second reading, St. Paul makes this call even clearer. He tells us, “Your attitude must be Christ’s.” This means we are to empty ourselves of our reliance on human strength so that we can be free to rely only on the Lord. We cannot surrender completely to the Lord without his help.
We all have firm good intentions to remain faithful to the Lord always – just like Peter. “Even though I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” How many times have we “disowned” Jesus? Our passions, especially fear and anger, get in the way of our fidelity, and we disown our Lord by our thoughts, actions and words. Instead of persevering in prayer, we fall asleep. We cannot stay awake with the Lord even for an hour.
When we get hurt or when someone we love gets hurt, we tend to lash out physically or verbally. In these moments, Jesus teaches us that our violent reactions will not solve anything, and will only make matters worse. “Those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it.” However, not very long after we ponder this basic teaching our indignation about something rises up again and we begin to retaliate. How true are Jesus’ words, “The spirit is willing but nature is weak”!
Jesus has taken on human nature in all its weakness. While he is enduring extreme torment on the cross, we see him at his weakest point, and he cries out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It sounds as if Jesus thinks the Father has abandoned him in his moment of need. But that is not the case. When he cries out, Jesus is taking our feeling of abandonment upon himself. When we suffer, we often feel alone, and at times, abandoned by God. In his Passion, Jesus puts himself in our place. He suffers for us, taking on himself the temptation that we have to despair or give up. When we are in a state of desolation, we can recall Jesus on the cross and know that we are not alone because he has already entered this interior place of suffering ahead of us.
Moreover, Jesus is not making up words on the cross; he is actually praying Psalm 22, which is our responsorial psalm today. In this way, he teaches us how to pray when we are suffering. He shows us how to call out to God and not believe that we are abandoned. This inspired psalm begins with an expression of anguish and a description of physical and emotional suffering, but it concludes with expressions of praise of God and confidence in him. We take this psalm with us as we enter the most holy days of the year. We will pass through the whole range of human emotions this week, but in the end the Lord provides each of us with the strength we need to be able to say, “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you” – all because of the victory Jesus has won for us on the cross.
Am I willing to acknowledge my sins? Do I worship Jesus as king? What is my response to persecution? Like Jesus, do I call out to God in the midst of suffering?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.