Palm Sunday (B) 2018
(The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark)
In the responsorial psalm today you repeated words that were horrendous, coming, as they once did, from the mouth of Jesus:
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Such a cry can only have been forced out of Jesus by unimaginably intense suffering, for He was, on earth, the very Son of God made flesh: as a Child He had been loved and taught by Mary, protected by Joseph; He grew up in constant favour with God and man; and His great delight was to learn from the Scriptures to recognize with His human mind and respond with His human heart to His heavenly Father more and more, day by day; He had been sent and endowed to save Israel and, indeed, the whole of mankind; and in all that He did He sought only to please and give glory to His Father in Heaven. How intense, therefore, must those sufferings have been which led Him to cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Listen to the psalm again (22:7-8):
All who see Me mock at Me; they mock Me with parted lips, they wag their heads: “He relied on the Lord; let Him deliver Him, let Him rescue Him, if He loves Him.”
It is hard to suffer unjust, ignorant, derision; derision from those of no principles whose life-course bends with every prevailing wind, and whose only courage is to run with the hounds and share in the pleasures of the mob.
But even those who find themselves having to endure such derision -- when they have been finally brought low, and their suffering and agony is visible to all -- will hear, at times, individual voices being raised on their behalf, or perhaps find themselves being accorded some compassionate and sympathetic gestures from one or two onlookers more humane or tender-hearted than the others. There were, indeed, some such who witnessed Jesus’ agony; but they were only tender-hearted, they had no understanding of Jesus’ P/person and character, no appreciation of His aims and purpose. And they only lamented, since no one actually spoke up for Jesus personally, with the result that His persecutors were able to laugh at His loneliness. Even worse, in their laughter they mocked at His very thread of life saying:
He relied on the Lord, let Him rescue Him, if He loves Him!
Yes, Jesus had trusted in the Lord, His Father! Throughout His life He had trusted totally in His Father and He knew that His Father was totally trustworthy. Now, however, it seemed that, as His life was draining away, He was leaving a situation totally at variance with the ideal for which He had lived. Jesus had wanted to lead His fellow Jews to recognise the Father He proclaimed as the one true God Whom they and their fathers had always worshiped: the one God and Father Whose wisdom and goodness could only be most fittingly learnt and most fully appreciated from the witness and teaching of His only-begotten Son now become man. And here were those to whom He had been sent, and for whom He had laboured long and suffered much, mocking His Father and their God with their jibe: “let Him save this fellow if this fellow is His friend”.
Compared to this Personal agony the physical torment was as nothing; nevertheless, physical torment it was: He could count every one of His bones and was wracked by agonizing cramps as He hung there; breathing was so horribly difficult for Him, continually having to struggle to raise up His rib cage enough to experience but the slightest relief from the dreadful and continuous threat of being smothered; and then those holes in His hands and feet were pouring out His life-blood and leaving Him with such a terrible thirst!
The psalm which Jesus was reciting went on:
But You, O Lord, be not far from Me; O My help, hasten to aid Me;
witnessing to the fact that He trusted His Father to the end; indeed, the psalm closes with words of triumph:
I will proclaim Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. You who fear the LORD, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, give glory to Him, revere Him, all you descendants of Israel!
However, granting such a final outcome, the question becomes all the more pressing: why did Jesus have to suffer so dreadfully in order to complete the work of our salvation?
It was not only to save us from our sins, His holiness and majesty were infinitely more than sufficient for that; but to restore and renew us individually so that each of us might be able to recognize and respond to the love of His Father, from Whose loving approval we had all originally turned at the behest of the serpent … all that required and still requires our individual humble and loving co-operation!
And so, Jesus did not suffer horribly simply because it needed such suffering to free all of us from the weight of our sins; no, He suffered so much to show and hopefully convince us, His brethren, to just what extent He Himself would, and we, each and every one of us, could and should, trust the Father. He willingly emptied Himself entirely of any Personal dignity, physical and emotional reserves of strength, of any hope of possible escape or deliverance other than His Father’s love and faithfulness which, however, He could no longer feel or imagine. He suffered thus because He wanted to proclaim to suffering humankind that no matter what their situation – for no human suffering could possibly measure up to this – the Father was the One to trust. He might have said this again in words, but words could in no way give the weight of conviction offered by the living example of this Man who, so totally forgetful of Himself, was relinquishing all that He had and was, and committing Himself into His Father’s loving arms while agonizing on the Cross, in order to make manifest to sinful men just how good, how totally admirable and absolutely trustworthy, the Father is. Only by thus enduring and triumphing over the worst the devil might inflict would Jesus be able free us from fear of the devil by giving us an unquenchable hope in the Father’s goodness, and thereby empower us to follow wherever His Spirit might lead us for God’s glory and the salvation of the world.
Hear now the words of St. Peter giving encouragement to a tiny flock of bewildered and persecuted Christians in Asia Minor, and recognize how your faith today, dear People of God, is indeed being offered the same nourishment as that which enabled those Christians of old to triumph over their sufferings and transform their world:
You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, Who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21)
Glory and praise to you Lord Jesus Christ! You are the Saviour of the world!