Our Gospel passage for this Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday is the Passion narrative according to St Matthew. We have been reflecting on the suffering and death of Christ as the source of life and salvation. What can we learn from it?
In the First Reading from Isaiah, we saw one dimension of the suffering of Christ. It is the suffering of someone who obeys the Father. When you obey, you suffer. But it is a different type of suffering compared to the sufferings that are consequences of our stubbornness and of our carelessness. Obedience entails a bit of suffering. But the suffering of the obedient one is coupled with his trust in God, whom he obeys. When you trust, you should be willing to suffer. Trusting in God makes us vulnerable also. But it’s a beautiful type of suffering – someone who obeys, someone who trusts, can bear suffering. It is a meaningful type of suffering.
In the Second Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians, we see that the obedience of the Son of God to the Father was expressed, too, in another dimension of suffering, which is solidarity with human beings. Out of obedience to the Father, the Son of God emptied himself of his glory and became human. He entered the lowly state of humanity, and he suffered all that human beings suffer, even death on a cross. So it is not just a suffering that is a consequence of one’s obedience to the Father. It is a suffering because of love of neighbor. It is a suffering out of service to the neighbor until death. So we see these two dimensions in the suffering of Jesus – the vertical dimension, which we call obedience to the Father, and the horizontal dimension, which is loving service, humble solidarity with brothers and sisters.
Now these two dimensions are verified in the Gospel, which is a long account of the Passion of Christ. I invite you to meditate on the Passion narrative according to Saint Matthew. But let me point out some details in the narrative that will give us a clear picture of the obedience of Jesus Christ to the Father, and his solidarity with brothers and sisters.
Let us start with Jesus’ obedience to the Father. How is this manifested in the narrative of his passion? There are many, but let me single out the following. When you go to the Agony in the Garden, in Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to the Father: “If it is your will, please, let this cup pass me by. Let me not drink of the cup of suffering.” Yet he ends his prayer by saying, “Not my will but your will be done.” He freely expresses his desire to the Father. He expresses his fear. He expresses the horror before him, of drinking the cup of suffering. That’s understandable. He is not only human, but he is also fully God. And God trembles before evil. Yet you see the obedience of Jesus: “Not my will; your will be done.” He embraces suffering as a consequence of his obedience to God’s word, to God’s will, and to God’s way. So in Jesus, the First Reading is fulfilled.
Another manifestation of this obedience to the Father was when Peter tried to save Jesus. Imagine, when the gang came to arrest Jesus, Peter, true to form, drew his sword in order to defend Jesus. But Jesus says, “No, Peter. Put your sword back to where it belongs. Don’t you realize? I can call on the Father to send legions of angels to defend me. Peter, who are you to defend me? I have the hosts, the armies, of angels to defend me. But I am not calling on them so that Scriptures would be fulfilled, so that the will of God, the Word of God, the plan of God that you may not understand at this point, may be fulfilled. Peter, I do not need defense. I need to fulfill the will of God.” Look at that suffering. I guess all of us would have enjoyed the defense of someone like Peter. We probably would even say, “Thank you, Peter, for protecting me.” But out of obedience to God, Jesus would say, “No, Peter, I am willing to be vulnerable. I trust in God, not in your sword.” This is the suffering again of someone – the prophet Isaiah depicted someone who can bear with any suffering because he knows God will defend him. Jesus shows that.
And let me jump. How did Jesus end his earthly life? He ends with a prayer: “My God, why have you abandoned me?” And in the style of Matthew, after saying that, he abandons himself. He gave up his spirit with a loud cry: “Why did you abandon me? But here I am. I abandon my spirit to you.” What a heroic act of someone who suffers not only physically but even interiorly, ending his life, praying, entrusting himself to God. So when you look at the narrative of Jesus’ suffering, please be attentive to the obedience that he showed to the Father, and his trust in the Father.
And finally, we said that St Paul in the Second Reading highlights Jesus’ suffering out of solidarity and communion with us. We see this through and through in the Passion narrative according to Matthew. You would not even suspect that Jesus is the Son of God, the way he was treated by people. Look at the ridicule that he experienced. When you go through all the episodes here, try to see Jesus united with those who were arrested on false charges. See how Jesus is united with those who were betrayed by friends, sold because money is more important than human beings; the victims of human trafficking; the victims of infidelities, betrayals. Look at Jesus – Jesus who was falsely accused in the Sanhedrin. And remember the many people who are sacrificed on false charges, false accusations, by those who have power. Look at Jesus being betrayed also by a close friend, Peter, who saved himself instead of saving him. Remember the many people who were let loose to die because those who possess the truth would rather defend themselves, preserve themselves, rather than the innocent. Look at how the soldiers divided his clothing. Look at the scorn, the insults hurled at him, and recall the people who were left alone, who died alone, not having friends to stand by them. Jesus is one with them, one with us.
So now, no victim will die alone. No victim will suffer alone. Jesus is with you. Jesus suffers with you. The love of Jesus, love of the Father, and love of us, is the love that is willing to suffer. It is love through and through. Let us learn from that love. Let it be our example in life, for it is the love that saves us. It is the love that gave us new life.
So instead of giving you stories, I invite you, meditate on the story of this great love that was willing to suffer for us in obedience to the Father and in communion with us.
The Word is now exposed. Let us now fulfill it.
(Video, as well as transcript derived from it, courtesy of Jesuit Communications)