Updated: Apr 1, 2021
There are several transitions in the readings of today including the passion narrative. From hosanna to crucify him. From spreading cloaks and palms to jeering and mocking. From close following to distancing and desertion. From professing Him to denial. From dining at the same table to betrayal. From listening to his teachings to rejection and condemnation. It is a battle between forces of evil and the Son of God, the Way, Truth, and Life. Eventually, Jesus ends up alone on the Cross, in the words of the songwriter Matthew Bridges, “Man of Sorrows, wrapped in grief.” As Saint Paul says, “Because of this, God has greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus’ passion and death is the great message of Holy Week.
Jesus suffers the pain of betrayal not just from outsiders but from insiders. Peter denies him three times. Judas Iscariot provides the platform and delivers him for arrest. From the outside, Pontius Pilate, who is governor, succumbs to political pressure and hands him over for crucifixion, freeing the notorious Barabbas in place of an innocent Jesus. The soldiers show ruthless treatment- strip his clothes, weave a crown of thorns, mock him, spit on his face, and hit him like a criminal. The chief priests and the scribes prefer to have his innocent blood on their heads and those of their children rather than let him go. Not the least of the authorities side with Jesus.
The paradox of Palm Sunday is shown in the unholy exchanges by Christ’s followers, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna in the highest,” then on the other hand, “Crucify him.” On the day of the Lord’s trial, the Jewish elders work the crowds to create a mob mentality. Knowing that Jesus has not committed a crime deserving death, they whip up the crowds to overwhelm Pilate to force him to crucify Jesus. Certainly, some in the crowd are also there on Palm Sunday. Many know His goodness. Why aren’t they defending Jesus? Where are all the people Jesus cured? -the sick, deaf, dumb, paralytic, the lame and possessed, touching his garments, dropping from the ceiling on stretchers, asking for healing at the Pool of Bethsaida. The scriptures tell us how the Lord even tries to escape them by boat, but they run to the other side to meet Him. Where are the 5,000 He fed? Where is everyone on that terrible day? There is a saying that if you say nothing in the face of injustice, you said something. They exchanged the holy for the unholy.
Have you ever thought about what you would do for Jesus if you had been there? Do you think you would speak up for Jesus? The people back then are the same as today, not different. During COVID for example, how many people abandoned Christ because they were mad at Peter, mad at the Church? Imagine the loneliness that Christ suffered then and the abandonment He suffers now. Our Lord is totally abandoned on the cross, the reason why He cries out, “My God, my God. Why have you abandoned me?”
In the diary of St. Faustina, Jesus laments, “I desire to bestow My graces upon souls, but they do not want to accept them (...). Oh, how indifferent are souls to so much goodness, to so many proofs of love! (...). They have time for everything, but they have no time to come to Me for graces” (Diary, 367). At this terrible time when the Lord needed comfort, where are all the people He helped, fed, healed, counseled, and cared for? They exchanged the holy for the unholy.
By this time last year, the church was locked, and we celebrated Palm Sunday in our homes. Everything was strange. I was preaching to a cellphone camera in an empty church with empty pews gazing back at me, likewise other priests. But so much has happened between last year and now. Here we are, starting yet another Holy Week to commemorate the Lord’s Passion. Jesus does not seem to ask so much of us. Think about Simon of Cyrene, Veronica, the women of Jerusalem, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and anyone who played a positive role during His excruciating journey to Golgotha. All they did was just a little. Everyone else exchanged the holy for the unholy, truth for falsehood, life for death, eternity for vainglory. The cost was the great sacrifice on the Cross, the cruel death of Jesus. What exchanges do we make and what do they cost us today?
We experience betrayal of faith. We encounter denials of religious values. We shy away from discussions that challenge us to defend Catholic morals. We become passive about the dignity of life. We sell out on the principles that identify with God’s commandments in our workplaces, schools, and in our families. We are like the disciples who could not keep their eyes open at such a time that their master needed them most. Jesus calls Simon by name and says, “Simon, are you asleep?” He is calling each of us by name during this Holy Week. Jesus is asking you, are you asleep? Can you not watch one hour with Me?
The key to a fruitful Holy Week lies in actively identifying with Jesus, giving up everything for Him. He knows that our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak, still, he carries us along. Jesus does not grieve for himself but for the world. He grieves because of our sins, wickedness, greed, malice, denial, betrayal, and lukewarmness. His soul is pierced by our unholy exchanges, our lack of passion and commitment, our acts of cowardice when we need to speak up, our inability to take risks for the faith. He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In the book, A Treasure in Clay, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote that Judas’ betrayal began with Judas’ rejection of Jesus in the Eucharist. The Holy Week invites us to a deep reflection on our love for Christ in the Eucharist. If we let the Eucharist down, we find ourselves in unholy exchanges that betray Christ, the Bread of Life. Again, I could ask of us, where are you in today’s crowd? Are you aware of how much He cares for you? How often He helps, feeds, heals, directs, and protects you and your loved ones? During this Holy Week, it would be a good exercise to write down every gift you can think of that the Lord has given you. It will surely be a long list. Consider how He helps you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Then ask Him how you can thank Him and in what ways you can spend more time with Him. Make extra time for the Lord this Holy Week. Speak the truth. Give alms. Reach out to the sick. Visit the Blessed Sacrament. Spend extra time in prayer. Go to confession. Do not leave Jesus alone.