Tag Archives: death of Jesus

Palm Sunday: The Passion from Luke’s Gospel

Palm Sunday this year we read St. Luke’s passion narrative, which sees Jesus’ death and resurrection as the culmination of his earthly journey. From Galilee, Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, to his death on Calvary, his resurrection and finally he ascends into heaven. It’s more than a journey to death, Jesus rises and is welcomed into heaven.

He does not journey alone. In Luke’s gospel, from Galilee to Jerusalem Jesus gathers disciples to accompany him. He does not face death alone–  disciples are with him, though he’s abandoned by twelve of them in the Garden of Gethsemane. Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the fields, takes up his cross and carries it behind him. Simon is a symbol of humanity, along with the ” large crowd of people” including “many women who mourned and lamented him,” Though unaware, disciples are with Jesus on the way.

Jesus says to all in Luke’s gospel, “ If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’”(Luke 9,23-24} Simon represents all the followers of Jesus who go with him on his journey. It’s not only the cross of Jesus Simon carries, it’s “his cross,” his daily cross, his own cross.

Jesus’ words in Luke’s gospel to the women “who mourned and lamented him” are puzzling. Some say he comforts them as he goes to his death. Others say his words are a prophetic announcement of the judgment that inevitably follows injustice. Jerusalem will be destroyed as a consequence. Every unjust act, every sin has consequences that cannot be waived away.

Two criminals accompany Jesus to Calvary, the place of execution just outside the city gates where many people passed. For the Romans it was the perfect place to display their fierce justice. Jesus would die at this hellish place of torture and death, not a place one wished to be or to see.

Yet Luke, like the other evangelists, sees light in this place of death. Instead of harsh justice, suffering and death, God’s mercy and new life are revealed here: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

God’ mercy is revealed here to a criminal crucified with Jesus. Another criminal mocks him from his  cross. “Are you not the Messiah. Save yourself and us.” But his companion rebukes him and turns to Jesus with a plea to be remembered. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

More than a remembrance, Jesus promises to take him with him on his journey to God. “Amen I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” As he does so often in Luke’s gospel,  Jesus reaches in tender mercy to one without hope.

Like Simon of Cyrene, the thief represents humanity. He’s been promised life and safe passage through the mystery of death. He dies with Jesus. The thief reminds us that eternal life is never denied to anyone.

The thief is a sign for us all. We die, but we die with the Lord. The best place for us to understand the mystery of death is on Calvary.

The Annunciation of the Lord

annunciationReadings

The feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, March 25, is nine months before Christmas, December 25. It’s an old feast celebrating the moment the Word of God became flesh in the womb of Mary. There’s an early tradition that claims Jesus also died on this day and so this day begins and brings to an end the Son of God’s earthly existence. Then, he rises to a new life.

If we consider the feast in this more expansive way, we can say that the Word not only became flesh, but dwelt among us. Recall how St. Paul described Jesus dwelling with us in his letter to the Philippians, read during  this feast.

Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Mary figures prominently in this mystery. “Be it done to me according to your word,” she says to the angel who announces God’s invitation to bring his divine Son into the world. Her involvement in the Incarnation doesn’t stop as the Word takes flesh in her womb. She is intimately involved in her son dwelling with us. Jesus is born and brought up as a child in her care. For most of his life he lives in Nazareth with Mary and Joseph before beginning his ministry in Galilee and then going to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

Mary had a great part in those first years of his life. When Jesus begins his ministry she only appears occasionally with him until the time he dies. The bond with her son is life long, though. She follows him, even to the cross.

John’s gospel sees Mary standing beneath the cross of Jesus with other women and the beloved disciple. In the other gospels the women who come up from Galilee stand at a distance watching. Though they don’t mention Mary, his mother, we naturally presume she was among them. She has a role in Jesus’ life even to the end.

So many of the sufferings of Jesus are described in Psalm 22, the psalm that provides a framework for the Passion narratives in the gospels. His physical sufferings are described vividly in the psalm, but other kinds of suffering are recalled too. The most prominent is a feeling of being abandoned by God and by those one loves.

We know the opening words of that psalm, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” But some lines later those words are rephrased: “Where is God who drew me forth from my mother’s womb and made me safe from my mother’s breast?” Do the words suggest that Jesus was looking for the comfort of his heavenly Father but also of his earthly mother?

I was talking recently to an experienced hospice nurse who said it was not unusual in her experience for those who are dying to look for loved ones, family members, particularly a mother, to be with them in passing from this life to the next. Was Jesus’ death different than ours? Yes, he was looking for his heavenly Father, but was he also looking for his earthly mother? And she was there, “Be it done according to God’s word.”

Pilate’s Wife

Daniel Harrington, SJ, in an article I’ve been reading in Bible Today on the Gospel of Matthew has an interesting comment on Matthew’s narrative of the passion of Jesus. He sees the narrative framed to absolve the Romans of their role in the death of Jesus and shift the blame to the Jews. The Jewish  Christian community around 90 AD, about the time the gospel was written, lived in a Roman world and wanted to be seen by the Romans, not as revolutionaries ready to topple their rulers, but as people interested only in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew is the only gospel reporting the dream of Pilate’s wife, who pronounces Jesus innocent. Like the dreams of Joseph, also recorded by Matthew,  her dream is important. Her judgment is followed by the Jewish crowd, prompted by their leaders, shouting out before Pilate: “His blood be on us and on our children.”  Matthew 27,15-25

Matthew’s community would see the punishment for their complicity in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They wanted to minimise Roman responsibility. Unfortunately, Christians  throughout history reading Matthew continued to place the guilt for the death of Jesus on the  Jewish people, resulting in dire consequences.

Today in the Office of Readings I’m reminded of the true key to understanding the scriptures, however:

“The stream of holy Scripture flows not from human research but from revelation by God. It springs from the Father of lights, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name. From him, through his Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit flows into us; and through the Holy Spirit, giving, at will, different gifts to different people, comes the gift of faith, and through faith Jesus Christ has his dwelling in our hearts. This is the knowledge of Jesus Christ which is the ultimate basis of the solidity and wisdom of the whole of holy Scripture.

“From all this it follows that it is impossible for anyone to start to recognise Scripture for what it is if he does not already have faith in Christ infused into him. Christ is the lamp that illuminates the whole of Scripture: he is its gateway and its foundation. For this faith is behind all the supernatural enlightenments that we receive while we are still separated from the Lord and on our pilgrimage. It makes our foundation firm, it directs the light of the lamp, it leads us in through the gateway. It is the standard against which the wisdom that God has given us should be measured, so that no-one should exaggerate his real importance, but everyone must judge himself soberly by the standard of the faith God has given him.”

St Bonaventure, Breviloquium