April 9, 2017 — Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
On this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion we hear, as we do every year on this day, the holy reading of Christ’s Passion, from the Gospel of Matthew this year. The Passion is the climax of the entire history of Revelation and Redemption. Interwoven with the realities of Revelation and Redemption are two truths of our lives — human sin and divine love. The Lord died for our sins because He loves us.
Needless to say, this is the longest Gospel of the year. It is almost 2,700 words in length, which is longer than 30 of the Books of the Bible. Although we may find this to be a challenge, it is so important that we hear it on this day, the final Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week this evening. On this day we receive palm fronds because this is in part a reenactment of Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem. Palm branches are recognized as a symbol of both peace and victory, as this day reminds us of both.
The story of the Passion is so very significant to us as Catholics because it tells us Who God is. In the First Letter of John 4:8 one of the most basic facts about the Lord and our relation to Him is stated simply as “God is love.” The Passion shows us exactly what love is. Love empties Himself of the glory at the right hand of the Father, and He takes the form of a slave. The love and humility evidenced within the Words of the Passion should become clear to us. That is why we need to hear it in its entirety. That is why we need to be participants within it because truly the people in the Passion represent us so vividly.
Any reflection offered on this day pales in comparison of the true Words we hear in the Passion. There is neither time nor space to offer a complete reflection on what we hear. Therefore, it might be best to focus on two small parts of this Gospel.
Early in the reading of the Passion, when Christ has gathered His Apostles for the Last Supper, He speaks of betrayal. Of course, all the Apostles are shocked and begin to ask “Is it I?’ Jesus tells them, “He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me.” We may think that Jesus is pointing clearly to Judas Iscariot at that point, but because of the customs at that time, all of them had dipped their hands into the dish with Him. Jesus is stating that His betrayer is a friend of His, someone who had shared much with Him in the recent past, someone who had eaten at the same table with Him many times.
What is remarkable about this is that even at that moment Jesus is telling Judas that He loves him, even though the Lord knows full well what Judas has already done, and Judas certainly is aware of what he has done as the betrayer. This love is the first thought which should permeate us as we hear this Passion. Jesus’ love for us is so profound, and we are called to respond by loving Him and one another.
The other focus is the Lord’s humility throughout the Passion, not just during the Passion, but throughout His entire life. This was a man, yes, but He was also God. Yet, His love was boundless and His humility is so obvious. That should be our concentration as well, especially during this Holy Week we are beginning. If we can love in some small way as Jesus has loved us, and if we can seek and find even an iota of the humility He shows, we will indeed be on the path to holiness.