Theme: Decide now
Luke’s account of the Passion of Jesus contains a number of emotional moments that show what happened to Jesus and the disciples when time to make decisions arrived. The majority of the disciples who had pledged loyalty at the Last Supper run away when the police converge on Jesus in the garden. Peter who had earlier on boasted of his steadfastness, denied any association with Jesus when questioned.
Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Pilate sought to avoid passing judgment on a man he believed was innocent. He sent him to Herod who mocks and beat him before sending him back. He appealed to the crowd to choose him over Barabbas. In order to pacify the Sanhedrin Pilate ordered that Jesus be flogged. Luke tried to exonerate the Romans of Jesus’ death as the early Church sought entry into the Mediterranean world. But in the end he can only show the pressure a cowardly Pilate was under as he gave in by handing Jesus over to be crucified, a form of capital punishment only Rome could inflict
First Reading Isaiah 50: 4-7
The servant of Yahweh describes self in a very moving way; he was beaten, insulted, slapped in the face, spat upon but he never reacted and continued placing trust in the Lord. We can compare this reading with what the soldiers of Pilate did to Jesus. Long before the birth of Christ the prophets had announced that the messiah was not to be victor but a loser, not one who is reserved but one who gives up his life. All this was because he was interested in saving us.
Second Reading Philippians 2:6-11
The community of Corinth was good but envy was not missing, a few wanted to monopolize. Paul comes out to teach them that nothing should be done out of jealousy or vanity. Instead they should be guided by humility of mind. It is here that he introduces the hymn sung in the community about Christ which narrates that Christ existed before he become man. He set aside all his divine greatness and appeared in our eyes as a frail simple man, most despised, the slave, the one whom Romans crucified. When he died, the Father raised him from the dead. We need to meditate on the person of Jesus and imitate him as true model for our Christian living. He underwent the greatest humiliation by Crucifixion and greatest glorification by Resurrection.
Gospel Luke 22:14-23;56
The gospels are mainly a summery of what happened to Jesus Christ the week following his death and resurrection. Luke tries to underline the bounty and love of Jesus. Even in passion, these episodes do not miss. He acts mercifully when the servant of the high priest is wounded, Jesus does heal the severed wound. He reprimands Peter for the foolish act and forgives him after a terrible denial in Pilate’s palace. He shows sympathy for the weakness of his disciples. The lesson is: do not get discouraged by the sins committed in your community. Before dying on the Cross he announced that “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” Luke 23:34. He gave this living example to act. Jesus demonstrates against competition and power. The one who wants to be great must be like a little child. Meaning, step down into the last place, serve the poor and place yourself at the service of all.
Jesus was admired by Herod but when he was sent to the palace by Pilate; Jesus did not attar a word. Herod represents all those people who expect a miracle from Jesus at the glance of an eye. But Jesus is not a miracle market. He is God. Christianity is a religion of Love and of self denial. Luke presents the women companions of Jesus, the women lamented for him on the way to Calvary because they were not guilty of what was taking place. They were mourning the sins of others. Who causes the fight in the home, wars between nations, provoke violence, mostly men. Who bears the consequence of all this? Jesus was crucified with two bandits, not village thieves but criminals and murderers. For Mark and Matthew, the two bandits kept insulting Jesus but for Luke, only one insulted and the other one reprimanded the fellow bandit. He even knew the name of Jesus and called him by name. “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom” Luke 23:42. Imagine Jesus takes the fundamental option and tell him “Today you will be with me in paradise” Luke 23:43.
The gospel of Luke begins with Jesus living among the poorest, the last, the shepherds, the publicans, the sinners and prostitutes. How could he conclude? Only Holy women come until the place of crucifixion, the rest were thieving soldiers who even shared his clothes. On the crosses where two men who had done so much evil in society, Jesus returns to the Father in the company of one to represent us all: a sinner won by his love.
The challenge posed to all of us as we listen to the Passion is this: Would we have stood by Jesus in his darkest hour if it would have gotten us arrested, tortured, even killed? We know the end of the story, and this might spur us to imagine our heroic response. It is clear that the disciples entered the darkness with Jesus but as the full force of religious and civil condemnation fell on him, they pulled back and let him go down alone. Luke cites Isaiah’s words: “He was counted among the wicked” Isaiah 53:12, to convey the spell cast over the scene in which good becomes evil and innocence becomes guilt in the eyes of everyone. Jesus, proclaimed in one moment as messiah, healer, teacher and prophet is denounced in the next as terrorist, fraud, lawbreaker and dangerous fanatic.
We honor Jesus today, but would we have accompanied him into the darkness of hate and violence he endured in life suppose we happened to be present at that time? Gospel formation that we encounter through Holy Week is meant to deepen our sense of discipleship; our conviction that we will not turn away when crisis comes if we publicly declare our faith in Jesus. Entering the reading of the Passion, identifying with both its heroes and failures, reminds us our own complicity in the denial, betrayal and flight from Jesus in his hour of need. It is the same escape we all make as we read the newspaper or watch news and try to distance ourselves from the suffering others are enduring all around us because of systemic injustice and poverty and wars waged in our name.
The powerful introspection and imaginative engagement of the story of Jesus’ final days and hours is a good thing. Even better should be carrying these holy actions in their ritual reenactment into our everyday lives. Jesus ought to be found everywhere in the same logic of expediency. To be a Christian is to continue the life and message of Jesus; let us dare never to give up. Today is our turn to proclaim our love for Jesus. The pressure is on and we must decide. True discipleship entails suffering; all has to be embraced with humility and the courage to say yes Lord I will forgive because you love us all.