The liturgies of Palm Sunday and Holy Week give us great comfort in that Jesus is there for sinners; yet on the other hand, great discomfort that we haven’t always been there for Him. That is the beautiful tension of Holy Week.
It’s a real challenge to allow the truth of God’s word to penetrate the area of our hidden sins, much like medical diagnostic tools penetrate our flesh and reveal hidden illnesses. In each case, the quality of the diagnosis affects our hope for a cure.
In the first reading, we have the servant of God, or if you prefer, Christ, speaking with a well-trained tongue, that He might know “how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” God’s truth brings hope to the weary if the individual welcomes the truth of the diagnosis but it brings further desolation to the one who denies the truth.
“Morning after morning He opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” This reveals to us the relentless power of the word of God to daily renew our inner spirit.
In the Book of Lamentations, there is a similar passage referring to the relentless energy of God’s word renewing us each morning. “The thought of my wretched homelessness is wormwood and poison; remembering it over and over, my soul is downcast. But this I will call to mind; therefore I will hope: The Lord’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, His compassion is not spent; they are renewed each morning — great is your faithfulness!” (Lamentations, 3:19-23)
The first reading continues, “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”
Jesus isn’t only a prophet; He is the Prophet. He always listened to the will of the Father; He always embraced the suffering sent His way; He never rebelled at those who caused Him suffering. He willingly embraced the pain our sins caused Him in order to give us an example of how to embrace the pain of our own sins.
In the second reading, Paul continues this same motif: “Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
In embracing the cross to take away our sins, Christ gives us an example of how to embrace the painful truth of our own sinfulness so that we may receive the mercy He won for us. The greater our repentance, the greater our joy!
In the Passion account, Jesus has to first endure the pain of His disciples’ betrayal before He can face the tortures of His crucifiers. As soon as Jesus gives them His Body to eat and His Blood to drink, His apostles break out in a quarrel, arguing who is the greatest!
He also has to warn Simon: “I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.” Finally, He tells them that Judas will betray Him. In addition, when He goes into the garden to prepare for His agony, He tells them to stay awake and to pray. They fall asleep. Not only does He miss their support, but He also feels abandoned by His Father.
Such is the power of sin to isolate us from one another. There is only one thing worse than separating ourselves from others, and that is separating ourselves from God and from self through despair, which seems to be the lot of Judas. Imagine how deeply Jesus felt the pain of His loss.
Perhaps the greatest suffering in the Passion was not the carrying of the cross or the crucifixion itself, but the agony in the garden of knowing that some will refuse His love.
Once Jesus left the garden, His heart was settled to embrace whatever sufferings came His way. Now it was only a matter of embracing excruciating pain in order to pour out His love for the salvation of humanity.
In the midst of His intense suffering, He has one incredible consolation, the request of the good thief: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus was happy to reply: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Imagine, in just a few hours He would experience the joy of His first victory — the good thief in Paradise.
As we contemplate the crucifixion, let us pour out our gratitude for the mercy His death won for us, but let us also ask Him for the courage to embrace the truth of God’s word revealing to us our hidden sins. What we need more than anything else is trust that His mercy will be there as we acknowledge our sinfulness. Without that trust, we can’t embrace our sinfulness; we will only continue to deny our sinfulness.
The good thief expressed the hope of possibly being remembered by his neighbor and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus jumped at the opportunity to teach us all that His mercy is awaiting all who have been seared by the pain of their own sins. Jesus was delighted to reveal the compassion of His Father, who gave His Son Jesus over to crucifixion for our sins. He now wants to make certain that the Father is glorified in our trust of mercy from Jesus.
Without trust in His mercy, we cannot be saved. Our trust in His mercy brings the Father great joy.