Palm Sunday – April 10, 2022
Consider these images. They are scenes found only in Saint Luke’s gospel: A Samaritan traveler – the Good Samaritan – an outcast – who becomes a model of compassion as he stops to care for a burdened man who had fallen prey to robbers … a patient, heartbroken and forgiving father who welcomes home a wayward, prodigal son … a grieving widow, whose only son is brought back to life following an encounter with Jesus.
These scenes of compassion, forgiveness and selflessness unique to Saint Luke seem to multiply in his version of Jesus’ passion that was just proclaimed. Only in Luke does Jesus heal the severed ear of the high priest’s servant. … Only in Luke, struggling under the weight of the cross, does Jesus stop to console the women of Jerusalem. … And only in Luke’s passion story do we hear Jesus pray for his executioners and promise paradise to the penitent thief crucified with him.
Saint Luke portrays a Jesus of extraordinary compassion and love, who forgives those who betray and seek to destroy him, who consoles those who grieve for him, and whose final breaths give comfort and hope to a condemned criminal who seeks reconciliation with God. In today’s passion, we encounter nothing short of life and hope emerging from the midst of humiliation, suffering and death. Yet, how can this be so in the face of so much pain and disappointment at such a desperate moment in human history?
Saint Paul, in today’s second reading from his letter to the Church at Philippi, gives us a clue. He tells us that in his passion, Jesus “emptied himself … and humbled himself … to the point of death.” He reminds us that Jesus provides those who are burdened by the weight of the human condition with hope, even as he achieves his own glory through humiliation.
Pope Francis put this mystery of the cross into perspective in his own reflections on Palm Sunday. “Why did the Lord endure all of this? Jesus did it for us, to plumb the depths of our human experience, our entire existence – to draw near to us and not abandon us in our suffering and our death – to redeem us, to save us. … By experiencing in the flesh our deepest struggles and conflicts, he redeemed and transformed them. … Now we know that we are not alone: God is at our side in every affliction, in every fear; no evil, no sin will ever have the final word. God triumphs, but the palm of victory passes through the wood of the cross. For the palm and the cross are inseparable.”
Brothers and sisters, how very much we need this Holy Week! Our world and our lives just can’t seem to catch a break. Just as we finally have begun to crawl out from beneath the burdens of a worldwide pandemic that has weighed us down for two years, our hopes for a better future have once again been dashed as war – of all things – has enveloped a portion of Eastern Europe and has placed the free world on edge. Unbelievably, we now wonder about our own safety and well-being, even as our hearts break for innocent souls suffering because of callous aggression, greed, and a blatant disregard for the value of human life.
How very much we need this Holy Week to help us face the struggles, the pain, the disappointment, the fear and the anxieties engulfing our lives and our world these days and to take them to the only place where they can be transformed into hope. That place, brothers and sisters, is at the foot of the cross of Jesus.
From the moment in which Jesus first embraced our broken and suffering world to begin his mission to bring us to salvation, where have we encountered him – but with the brokenhearted, the unforgiven, the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the dying? Jesus is found with all who suffer for he knows the paths they – and we – trod, because he made them his own.
Make no mistake, brothers and sisters, our experience of Holy Week will not take away the harsh realities of life that we face each day. Nor will it cause life’s disappointments to disappear. But our willingness to humbly turn to Jesus as the only source of our true and lasting hope has the power to open our lives the mystery of God’s saving grace and his promise of life and peace.
Therein, my friends, is the true and lasting gift of Holy Week.