We are here in this world because of love. We will leave this world because of love. And we have eternal life because of love.
But Love requires sacrifice.
Let us take into consideration the life of Jesus Christ beginning from his incarnation—his being born human among us, up to his death and resurrection and then his Ascension into heaven. All these major events in Jesus’ life had one thing in common—the Love of God the Father to whose Will Jesus was loyal even unto death, his ultimate sacrifice. It was Jesus Christ who showed the world that Love indeed requires sacrifice.
The Palm Sunday Gospel encapsulates for us Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, his death by Crucifixion. While this rather confusing Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry to Jerusalem, the Gospel reading centers on the grisly events that finally culminates on Jesus’ death on the cross on Good Friday. This is meant to show us that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem signals his entry into death itself. The tone of the Gospel gave rise to another nickname for this day—Passion Sunday.
The Gospel according to St. Luke for the Passion Sunday within this extraordinary Year of Mercy provides us with the narrative that expresses the psycho-emotional and spiritual tortures Jesus had to endure (apart from his incredible physical torments) in order to fulfill God’s Will: the betrayal of a trusted friend, the denial of one who was close, the desertion of his disciples and the condemnation of the people he once healed and fed, the burden of a death sentence in spite of his innocence, the shame of being crucified naked like any common criminal, the insults of the Roman soldiers, the contempt of the scornful thief, the pain of looking down at his mother eyewitnessing his martyrdom, and the awareness of being abandoned by his close followers (with the exception of John and the women). All these Jesus had to bear as part and parcel of his ultimate sacrifice which he willingly embraced out of Love.
And it was because of that same love that Jesus turned his agonies into occasions of [a] receiving and experiencing mercy from others (the women of Jerusalem and his own mother Mary who stood by him, Simon of Cyrene who helped him carry his cross, the good thief who defended him against the sneers of the other, Joseph of Arimathea who provided for his decent burial) and [b] of bestowing mercy to many (the women of Jerusalem whom he consoled, the ones for whom he asked the Father for forgiveness because they knew not what they were doing, the good thief to whom he promised Paradise in the hereafter, and to us today who received His Spirit from the moment he commended his own spirit to the Father). Yet all these acts of mercy springing from selfless love still had to end upon his death on the cross because, ultimately, love indeed requires sacrifice.
As the Passion or Palm Sunday ushers all the faithful into the observance of the Holy Week, the fast-paced succession of events mentioned in the Gospel also invites us to do exactly the opposite — to slow down during the week and create some quiet time and space to reflect upon the entire life of Jesus Christ and His Life now within our very own selves.
The Gospel according to St. Luke can help us reflect upon the two great things Jesus had to give up for the fulfillment of his ultimate sacrifice — first, his being God; and second, his being human.
Giving Up Being God
Jesus the Divine Son willed to become a human being as this was the only way he could go deeper into meaningful relationship with the rest of God’s creation which the Father willed to save through Him. Jesus gave up his “God-ness” so that he may penetrate the deepest yet the most fragile part of our humanity – our very own vulnerability – our hearts! He succeeded by enduring the same experiences any human could go through, good and bad, happy and sad.
Here is a flashback in a flash… Born poor in a stable for animals, Jesus grew up the son of a carpenter Joseph whose lowly profession would later be looked down upon by his own countrymen. Without support from his own people, he became a travelling teacher, moving from one place to another, preaching the Good News of salvation to many while dodging insults and discriminatory comments from various sectors of the Jewish community. As his disciples and listeners increased, so did his enemies among envious and suspecting minds. He nevertheless healed the sick, told parables, fed the hungry, did miracles, forgave sinners and prayed to God often. In short, he lived to the fullest the best way he could as a mortal. Jesus willingly went through all of our joys and pains in order to embrace the fullness of our humanity. Yet he knew that one day everything would end in Jerusalem.
Giving Up Being Human
Even prior to his birth as a human being, the Son was already fully aware of the consequence of human life: mortality. Death, that is. Yet the most difficult part of having lived human life to its fullest is to give everything up for a higher cause—to surrender one’s life to death itself in the most gruesome and shameful manner, so publicly scandalous and, in fact, so inhuman. And the most unthinkable part is that it was the Father himself who required the ultimate sacrifice from the Son… and the reason was Love.
Jesus Christ, by the Will of the Father, gave up his divinity so that he may fully embrace our humanity. Now the very same human life he had embraced would be demanded of him to give up so that all of us humans may share in his divinity — the chance to return to the loving arms of the divine God, our Creator.
This was the essence of his ultimate sacrifice... and this we shall contemplate upon beginning this Palm or Passion Sunday. As we raise our palm fronds singing Hosanna, may we be brought back to Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem and live to tell how he too can enter into our own Jerusalem, our own hearts, where He chose to remain forever.
While Jesus never promised us a smooth journey, journeying with Him in His Paschal Mystery will surely allow us to experience His living and enduring witness to the Father’s Love that required of Him total sacrifice, not for his own sake but for all of creation.
So in union with the entire Church, let us once again enter into Christ’s Paschal Mystery.
Have a Gospel-filled Holy Week!
Fr. Robert P. Leus, cjm