The founding inspiration for us Passionists is the conviction that the Passion of Jesus Christ is the greatest sign of God’s love for the world. On Palm Sunday, where we read the account of the Passion, we are reminded once more of the extent of Jesus’ love for us. As Jesus undergoes His Passion, He teaches us so many things about how we are to love each other.
One lesson we learn is at the Last Supper. Although Jesus ultimately undergoes His Passion alone, He is sharing this last meal with a community: the Twelve He has chosen to be with Him. Although the apostles are far from a perfect community (they actually get into an argument about which one was the greatest), the Last Supper reminds us that community is important to being a Christian. We don’t follow Jesus only as individuals, but as a community of faith.
Another lesson that Jesus teaches us about love is prayer. As Jesus prays in the garden, He asks the Father: “take this cup away from me; still not my will but yours be done.” In any love relationship, communication with the beloved is necessary. It is no different with our relationship with God. Even in His anguish, Jesus surrenders to the will of His Father. For us, that kind of surrender requires prayer and trust in God.
After the prayer in the garden, Jesus is arrested, and heals the servant whose ear was cut off by one of the disciples. One of the most challenging lessons that Jesus teaches us about love is non-violence. One of the remarkable things about the Cross for me is that Jesus refuses to answer violence with more violence. After Jesus is arrested and led to the house of the high priest, Peter denies that he knew Him. In Luke’s account, Jesus looks at Peter, and Peter, overcome with shame and guilt, weeps “bitterly.” I don’t see Jesus’ look as one of condemnation. I see it more as a look of compassion. When we are confronted, like Peter, with our own guilt, and can still experience God’s love and compassion toward us, our only response can be to be compassionate toward others.
After Jesus is at the high priest’s house, He is brought before Pontius Pilate. When Pilate hears that Jesus is from Galilee, he sends Him to Herod. Herod is glad to see Jesus, but only because he wants Jesus to “perform some sign.” Jesus does not answer him, nor does He perform some sign, and Herod treats Him “contemptuously” and sends Him back to Pilate. Here is another lesson about love. Jesus does not “perform” to gratify Herod’s desires. Love isn’t about seeing someone only in terms of what they can do for us. It isn’t about trying to make a person be someone he/she is not. We are to love them for who they are. At the same time, we let go of trying to be someone who we’re not, in order to make others love us.
Eventually, Pilate gives in to the crowd, and Jesus is condemned to death. The soldiers leading Jesus to His crucifixion seize Simon of Cyrene and make him carry the cross for Jesus. Loving as Jesus loves involves helping others carry their crosses. Sometimes we may feel forced into it, as Simon was, but when we remember all the times when God lifted us up and carried us, we are more able to answer the call to help someone else.
When Jesus is on the Cross out of love for us, He teaches us even more what it means to love. He first says, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” On the Cross, Jesus does what He’s been telling His disciples and the crowds to do: forgive. Christian love includes forgiveness. Later on, Jesus goes even further than forgiveness. When one of the criminals being crucified reviles Jesus for not saving Himself or the others, the other criminal rebukes him, and then says to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” For me, this goes beyond forgiveness, because the “good” criminal does not apologize for or even try to rationalize what he has done. He knows his guilt and asks to be with Jesus. Jesus replies with mercy. Love not only involves forgiveness, but also mercy.
Finally, when Jesus is about to die, He cries out: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus turns Himself over to His Father. This last lesson of love is the total giving of self. To do this does not mean we lose ourselves in another, but rather, in giving of ourselves, we find ourselves.
May we learn from Jesus as we follow Him through the Passion into the Resurrection.
Fr. Phil, CP