Readings: MT 21:1-11; IS 50:4-7; PS 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; PHIL 2:6-11; MT 26:14 - 27:66
The procession with palms and the reading of the Passion mark the beginning of the most significant week in the annual Christian cycle - leading us from the joyful entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, through his passion and death, to the resurrection of Easter. However, this Holy Week is not intended to simply be a "walk down memory lane" with our heads. Rather, it is an invitation to become engaged in Jesus' journey and to make connections with our own journey in our heart, mind, and soul. How are we to live and to face our challenges as Jesus faced his?
The first reading from Isaiah is one of four songs that present the Suffering Servant of the Lord (Is. 42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12), whom Christians later see as a foreshadowing of Christ. The obedient Servant does not turn back from witnessing to the Word of God, despite the cost. The very compelling scene, found in the longer version of Matthew's Passion today, that illustrates this so clearly, is Jesus in Gethsemane.
After celebrating the "Last Supper," Jesus anticipating his imminent suffering, goes to Gethsemane to pray. Jesus shared this with several disciples: "My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me" (Mt 26:38). One can only imagine the agony that Jesus felt at that time. Jesus "fell prostrate in prayer, saying, 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me'" (Mt 26:39). The human Jesus seems to be hoping that this crisis could be avoided. And yet, he continues, "yet, not as I will, but as you will" (Mt 26:39). These words capture the ultimate meaning and motivation of Jesus' life and death as he witnessed to, and proclaimed, the Reign of God.
How can we imitate Jesus as we face our challenges and crosses? Sometimes they may seem to be unbearable and unrelenting. We hopefully have family, friends, and pastors to accompany us. But sometimes that is not the case. Jesus had companions who were asleep during his time of need and soon one (Judas) would actually betray him and another (Peter) even deny knowing him. Jesus brought his sorrow and anxiety to God in prayer and, as he had done during his whole life, he handed himself over into God's hands. The reading from Philippians reminds us that this required humility (cf. Phil. 2:8). So we are to do the same. The suffering and agony were not taken away from Jesus, but Jesus endured it with the assurance that God was with him and that his life meant more than the suffering.
As we look forward to Holy Week, we know that God transformed the suffering and passion of Jesus into new life with the resurrection. During this week, we are invited to name our suffering and cross and bring it to God with a true spirit of humility and faith. We trust that our loving God will give us the grace we need to face our challenges and that our lives will be transformed into a fuller experience of God's new life.
Roger Schroeder, SVD
Professor of Intercultural Studies and Ministry
Holder of the Bishop Francis X. Ford, MM, Chair of Catholic Missiology
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