Accepting Our Crosses

Palm Sunday

Mt 21: 1-11; Is 50: 4-7; Phil 2: 6-11; Mt 26: 14 – 27: 66

Deacon Larry Brockman

Such a contrast between the two Gospels today.  First, Jesus is welcomed into the city with a procession and a large adoring crowd.  They even lay palm branches before him to clear the way.  These people had heard of his miracles, and many of them had seen the raising of Lazarus.  They were excited to have him in their presence.   

But just a short time later, the events of the second Gospel unfold, and Jesus is reviled by the same crowd.  What happened?  Why the change in attitude?  And why does Jesus, who had displayed such awesome power in his miracles, accept his capture and humiliation without using his power?   

During this Lenten season, I had the honor to lead a Bible Study called: “Jesus’ Passion, the story of Redemptive Suffering”.  It was a five-session study that basically looked at today’s Gospel along with the other three Gospel accounts.  It also used Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ”.  We would watch a portion of the movie before each session on our own as we read the scriptures that applied to those scenes. 

It is amazing how scripturally accurate the movie is.  As any of you know who have watched the movie, it is also painfully graphic.  I must admit that I didn’t look forward to watching it again because it is so graphic.  But I am glad I did because the intense suffering we witnessed, and we just heard about in the Gospel, is a big part of the message that we need to take away today.  And the reality of what happened to Jesus is very, very harsh and horrific.   

The study guide really helped put perspective on the film, because much of the poetic license employed by Mel Gibson in his scenes had cultural and historical basis.  For example, the devices used during the scourging; the way it was done; the number of lashes; etc; were all carefully researched.  Gibson also knew what the Old Testament prophecies were, such as the Isaiah reading today and other Isaiah prophecies; and Psalm 22, today’s responsorial Psalm.  The film is a masterpiece in terms of bringing all of this to reality.  The truth is that the reality was very harsh.   

This is the year for Matthew’s Gospel.  Matthew is big on details and on pointing out how the events in Jesus life were prophesied in the Old Testament.  Just as an example, Jesus was described as the Lamb of God earlier in the Gospel by John the Baptist.  The Jewish sacrificial animal, sometimes referred to as a Scape Goat, could be a lamb or a goat.  It was slain and offered up “outside the gate”.  Jesus was slain “outside the gate” on Mt. Calvary.  This is the kind of attention to detail and fulfilment of prophecy I am talking about.   

Now that brings me to why Jesus was so submissive.  After Jesus went out into the desert to pray and endure the 3 temptations by the devil, he returned energized to do God’s will for him.  He was, above all obedient to the Father.  And God’s will was that he preach the good news of the New Covenant.  The New Covenant is based on Love.  He preached on Love in the “Sermon on the Mount”.  That was called the Beatitudes.  And he gathered a group of Apostles and Disciples to help him with his mission.   Jesus’ entire life was lived from that point on to fulfill God’s will for him.  On three separate occasions, Jesus told his closest disciples exactly what would happen to him.  And he told them that it would happen so that all the scriptures would be fulfilled.  Jesus told his Disciples that the Son of Man would be handed over to evil men; suffer, be lifted on a Cross, and then raised from the dead in three days.   

So, the reason Jesus accepted his humiliation was because it was God’s will that he do so.  It was God’s will that he speak in God’s name, describe the new Covenant, identify Himself as God, and not intervene when the system reacted to all of that and prosecuted him- because he was obedient to the Father.   

But there is something else.  Jesus life, and his Passion in particular, was meant to be an example for all of us.  For thousands of years, God was remote, transcendent if you will, from mankind.  Various cultures and peoples claimed to have heard the voice of God- but there was so much diversity in what they heard. 

So, God sent his only Son and established an intimate relationship with mankind.  He showed us by example how we could be obedient to God’s will, submissive to it; and live it to the end.  Then, he showed us what happens if we believe and follow him.  Because of the Resurrection, we all see what potential we have in a Resurrected body forever.

What turned the crowd against Jesus?  Well, two things come to mind.  First, after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he angered the establishment.  He went to the temple, cast out the money changers, and bucked the teaching of the establishment.  They couldn’t handle that.  And so, the establishment was out to get him.  We can sense that in all the false testimony in today’s second Gospel-  trumped up charges, things taken out of context, exaggerations, and propaganda were all being used against him.   

Second, large groups of people are easily led by this kind of propaganda.  If you tell a story long enough, people will believe it whether it is true or not.  Notice that during Jesus trial, Pilate asked him what He came for.  Jesus told him that he came to testify to the truth.  And it was the truth that the establishment couldn’t handle even in the face of miracles.   

I encourage you to watch the movie.  In it, you will see Jesus embrace the cross, almost with a sense of love and attachment.  Probably because, although in the midst of tremendous pain, he realized that he was almost finished doing His Father’s will to the end.  And he was doing it while loving his enemies at the same time.   

This is what we can take away from the whole incident.  First, life is full of challenges- we all have our crosses to bear.  Each life must accept the suffering that is our cross to bear, and lovingly be obedient to God and do His will for us.  That may mean Fatherhood, Motherhood, Teaching, Preaching, Serving, Creating, and even Entertaining others in some mix.  It may mean a whole lot of other things too.  But we must always be true to our mission.  Our jobs, interests, and other activities need to come second to our real calling by the Lord.  Second, our suffering may seem harsh, but it is nothing to compare to what Jesus suffered.  Thirdly, if we hold firm, then true joy awaits us in the Kingdom of God, where there will be no more suffering of any kind.   

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