The Power of the Passion: Palm Sunday, Cycle C

Reading: Luke 22:14-23:56

Today we hear Luke’s version of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like all great dramas it is most effective when we place ourselves in it; see it through the eyes of those on the inside. As we do so we find such a rich array of characters that we cannot help but ask ourselves which ones we most resemble.

There are those who fall: the Apostles, who argue at the Last Supper about which of them is the greatest; Judas, the follower turned betrayer; Peter, the follower who denies even knowing Jesus; Herod, anxious only to see Him perform a sign; Pilate, whose resolve over Our Lord’s innocence weakens under pressure; the crowd, who stand by and watch silently as others abuse Him; the thief who reviles and bullies Him.

But there is also virtue: Simon the Cyrenian, who carries the cross on behalf of the struggling Christ; the women of Jerusalem who weep in mourning; the thief who recognizes that Jesus has done nothing wrong and begs to be with Him in eternity; the crowd who regret their actions; the centurion who proclaims His innocence; and Joseph of Arimathea, who provides for Him to the end and beyond.

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What makes the Passion of Our Lord so powerful is not only that it is the story of our Redeemer, although it certainly is that; it is also the story of us, the redeemed. We don’t have to imagine ourselves as characters in the drama; we already are those people. As flesh and spirit, virtue and vice, it is we who in one breath swear to follow Christ, to bear the cross, to proclaim His innocence, and to beg Him for salvation, only in the next breath to deny even knowing Him, shout to crucify Him, and bully Him into doing things our way.

We might think that the struggle between virtue and vice is what makes us human; yet throughout the Passion, Jesus shows us what being fully human really means. As Pope St. John Paul said in his encyclical Redemptor Hominis, Jesus Christ the Redeemer “fully reveals man to himself.” Consider His words to the arguing Apostles, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant (Luke 22:26); to Peter, once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:32); to the jeering crowd, Father, forgive them, they know not what they do (Luke 23:34); and to the repentant thief, today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). In Christ do we find our proper point of reflection. Being most fully human is not measured by how much we are like the people around Jesus, but how much we are like Jesus to the people around us.

Today we leave the story unfinished, with Jesus buried in the tomb. This is fitting; it reminds us that if we are truly like Christ, we were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

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