Pastor Column: Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019
Msgr Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish
Although the season of Lent continues until Thursday evening with the beginning of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Week begins today with Palm Sunday and concludes on Holy Saturday. As has been the custom for this liturgical year, we hear the Passion narrative of Jesus from Luke’s gospel today, including events from the Last Supper to Jesus’ burial in the tomb.
Many theological scholars have speculated that there was an “original” Gospel that pre-dated the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The latter three are called the “Synoptic Gospels” and were composed between the years 70-90AD. Before their composition, it is believed that an oral gospel circulated among the first generation of believers, many of whom were physically present when Jesus’ actions occurred. The first gospel was basically a Passion narrative, detailing the events that most clearly were associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Many elements were fixed within a received tradition; little was changed or added by them. This did not preclude each of the Evangelists from emphasizing some aspect of the Passion and Death of the Lord in order to address some of their other historical and theological concerns. In Luke’s Passion account, there is an emphasis on the innocence of Jesus.
More than the other Evangelists, Luke presses the issue of Jesus’ innocence of the crimes for which Jesus stood accused. Three times Pilate speaks of Christ’s innocence and once before Herod Antipas, both of whom found Jesus not guilty. Even the centurion in Luke’s account clearly states “this man was innocent beyond doubt” (Lk 23:47). Luke is able to show in his Passion narrative that the political authorities and religious authorities of Jesus’ day found him innocent of the charges leading to His crucifixion. But the same leaders succumbed to peer pressure, though, in allowing the suffering of Jesus. They gave in to the mounting pressure from the crowds, whipped up by the Scribes and Pharisees.
We know the story of the Passion. It is an overwhelming story of obedience, love, humility, self-sacrifice and selflessness. When we understand that Jesus underwent what He did for you and for me, there is a genuine sense of our worth in the eyes of God. Jesus accepted the torturous death on the cross out of love for us, to take on Himself the punishment that we all deserved for our sins.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the characters presented in the Passion? Did they become followers of Jesus as a result of their encounters? Did the help offered by Simon of Cyrene change him? How about Veronica? Did she show everyone the veil with the image of Jesus’ face on it? Did her compassion for the Lord lead others to want to imitate it? And what did Barabbas do with his new freedom? Did he go back to plotting against the Romans, or was his life changed? Unfortunately we can never know the answer this side of heaven. However, we should ask ourselves some of the same questions: what are we doing with the freedom Christ gained for us? Have we changed our lives? Do we imitate Christ’s love by loving our neighbor? These are some questions posed to reflect upon as we join in the liturgies of Holy Week. I believe that what we do for Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel gives consolation to the Lord for all He suffered for us. It says His Passion was not in vain. We are making it known that Jesus’ suffering has made a real difference in our lives. And when that occurs, Jesus’ story becomes our own.