The gospel for this Sunday is Luke’s version of the passion and death of Jesus. It begins with the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist and then continues with the betrayal, the trials before Caiphas and Pilate, and ends with the crucifixion. We recognize this account as the climax of the mission of Jesus and yet it is almost too much to comprehend. Moreover, the homily will need to be short in view of the blessing of palms and the length of the gospel; hence the need to look for the essential kernel of this story.
It is clear that the suffering of Jesus is the most prominent feature of the passion story. However, it is necessary to insist that this story is not primarily about suffering: it is about loving. It was Jesus’ love for us that brought him to his passion and early death, and it was his love for us that opened the way for our redemption. The suffering was a consequence of his loving. There are many kinds of suffering, but only the suffering that comes from loving and remaining faithful is redemptive.
Jesus insists on this when he “defines” himself at the Last Supper as “body-broken-for-us” and as “blood-poured-out-for-us.” And in the verses that follow he separates himself from his bickering disciples with the simple and profound statement, “I am among you as the one who serves” (22:27).
As Christian disciples of Jesus, we all need to pay close attention to his wisdom and to guide our lives accordingly. Since we tend to be repelled by images of suffering, there is a real danger that we will become too selective in seeking that wisdom. In this way, we may miss the whole point of the passion story.
Today’s gospel is a clear reminder that the heart and soul of the wisdom of Jesus is found in this story of his passion and death. Since his suffering came from his unselfish loving, it follows that we must try to discern the causes of our own suffering. Not all suffering comes from loving. Indeed, it is far more likely to come from frustration or disappointment because we cannot have everything we want.
To walk with the suffering Christ is to feel the pain that inevitably accompanies the kind of love that sacrifices for the sake of others. Good parents do this for their children and good children love and obey their parents, even when it means giving up something they want. Good teachers sacrifice for their students also. Loving presence can easily mean a change of personal plans, so that a loving person is often justified in saying, “My life is no longer my own”.
The amazing thing about this kind of loving is that, though it is often very painful, there is a joy in it also. This should not surprise us because, after all, we were created to become free through the love of others and then to convert that precious freedom into loving service. Nothing is more compatible with our true nature as God’s children than this kind of loving…and nothing is finally more successful than the resurrection victory that follows such generous and faithful concern for others.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.