PALM SUNDAY (B) 2015
The Passion and Death of Jesus which you have just heard according St. Mark’s Gospel contains a passage which is reported also by St. Matthew and most probably comes from Peter, generally regarded as the source of Mark’s Gospel account which Matthew closely followed when incorporating it into his own Gospel story. St. Luke, who was not present at the crucifixion of Jesus, does not have this section; neither does St. John who, though present at the Crucifixion, experienced it in his own younger, perhaps more innocent, way.
People of God, we must never forget that though John is universally recognized as the disciple Jesus loved, Peter was the one who loved Jesus most, as John himself tells us (21:15):
Simon, Simon, do you love Me more than these? Yes, Lord, You know that I love You
At the Crucifixion John was standing nearby Mary, you might say together with her under the Cross. He was in no particular danger, being young and somehow personally acceptable to the High Priest’s officials and able to access his home or residence. Peter on the other hand was a notorious disciple of Jesus, and indeed a Galilean! Peter therefore would have been standing at a greater distance from the Cross, not so noticeable in the crowd around.
Peter had just denied Jesus – as His Lord had foretold – three times, and he was now heart-broken at what he had done: consequently, Peter, looking at Jesus from some distance, had eyes and ears only for Him, and he tells us only what he could gather Jesus was saying and doing. John, on the other hand, not so heart-brokenly centred on Jesus, here omits what Mark (Peter) and Matthew tell us about Jesus and tells us instead about the Pharisees and Scribes abuse and also about Jesus’ words to Mary and himself.
Here is what only Mark (Peter) and Matthew tell us:
And at three o‘clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “Look, He is calling Elijah.” One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put it on a reed, and gave it to Him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take Him down.”
Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed His last.
Jesus was, Peter tells us, reciting the 22nd Psalm. He was doing this long enough for that very gentle, personal and intimate sound first to be noticed and mentioned among the soldiers before one of them subsequently went (ran?) off to soak a sponge in some available wine, found a reed on which to put the soaked sponge, before then hurrying back carefully to show it to the others and finally offer it to the slowly agonizing … criminal as he thought.
Jesus had meanwhile been murmuring (not just, as in our days, merely been thinking of) the whole of that psalm to Himself.
Dear People of God, read the psalm for yourselves to appreciate why it meant so much to Jesus at that time!!
Jesus knew most intimately all the Scriptures and, indeed, every word in them … not one jot or tittle … however, it was the psalms that nourished His humanity most particularly. The Law and the Prophets spoke of God’s will for the Chosen People giving direct strength and guidance for Jesus’ divine character. The Psalms, however, tend to relate the recourse and response to God of His humble and faithful servants suffering from the ravages of sin still rampant among His Chosen People and these enabled Jesus to embrace the whole of Israel’s historically humble and faithful ‘anawim’, and afforded Him most wonderful divinely-human comfort, guidance, and strength for His own dying experience of human life at its most extreme.
Why did Jesus have to suffer so much?
Not because His Father was punishing Him for our sins!! He had to suffer because sin had been given entrance -- through Eve’s welcome and Adam’s embrace -- into our humanity at its very source. It could not, therefore, be just forgotten or ignored; neither could it be one-sidedly pardoned away, because sin is a reality, an instilled poison which, if not really destroyed in, driven from, men’s hearts will always be lurking and festering there, as Satan himself had been lurking and festering in the minds and hearts of Jesus’ Jewish adversaries after his initial defeat in the desert at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry until this very moment. Humanity in its original purity had to reject, overthrow, and destroy Satan’s power in a direct and immediate contest under the leadership of One far greater than Adam, One loving us divinely and therefore inexplicably, unimaginably, in the eyes of Satan who most foolishly despised Him because of such love and the perfect authenticity of His humanity.
Jesus had begun His public ministry and merited His Father’s manifestation of His loving approval by joining Himself to those penitents awaiting John’s baptism in the Jordan; and now, at the very end of that ministry and, indeed, of His life among us, He takes upon Himself our most sinful experience, that is, the most dreadful deceit and dangerous threat resulting from human sinfulness:
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Jesus thus wills to be with us – whoever we are and whatever we may have made of ourselves and done with His gifts -- as Saviour from beginning to end. He most deliberately and humbly lived and died among us and with us, under circumstances not always subject to His human choice but, as in our case, often against our wishes and subject only to our patient acceptance and loving prayer for God’s provident goodness and love. Thus He ultimately died with us and for us that we might be able to turn to Him for hope and redemption even in the very last moment of our distressed lives. Let us therefore take to our hearts and cherish most gratefully the final words of His dying prayer (vv. 20; 31-32):
But you, LORD, do not stay far off; My strength, come quickly to help Me.
And I will live for the Lord; My descendants will serve You. The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance You have brought.