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MARCH 24, 2013: PALM SUNDAY

Readings: 

Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:6-11
Luke 22:14-23:56

Hearing any of the four Passion Narratives, we're not so much to thank Jesus for dying for us as to thank him for showing us how to die. That's why our evangelists passed these stories on to us. The main task of a follower of Jesus is to die and rise with him. Just one question: how do we accomplish the former?

As far as we can tell, no one in any of the biblical Christian communities was expected to be scourged, have nails hammered into his or her wrists and feet and be elevated on a cross for three (or six) hours. That's not what dying with Jesus means. That's why there's almost no mention of Jesus' physical suffering in any of the four narratives. (Notice that today Luke describes Jesus' actual crucifixion using just three words: ". . . they crucified him . . . .”) Instead of physical suffering, our evangelists stress Jesus' psychological suffering. They presumed few of us would ever suffer physically because of our being other Christs; but none of us could avoid suffering psychologically.

The gospel Jesus always taught that the action which brings about our dying and rising with him revolves around giving ourselves for others. How do we accomplish this? In part, each of the four Passion Narratives differs from the other three because each evangelist zeroes in on different ways in which we're called to give ourselves. Yet, employing the example of Jesus' passion and death, all four are convinced our giving will entail a lot of psychological pain.

Luke's Jesus especially demonstrates such giving throughout his passion by a unique concern for others, even those involved in his death. Only in Luke, for instance, does Jesus replace the high priest servant's severed ear. (In the other three narratives the servant walks out of the garden with the ear in his hand.) Luke alone mentions that Jesus plaintively turned and looked at Peter after his denials, and that he told the weeping women not to worry about him, but to be concerned with the suffering they're going to endure. And two of the most memorable scenes in all four narratives were created by Luke: the good thief and Jesus' prayer as he's being nailed to the cross, "Forgive them, Father, they don't know what they're doing."

We'd logically expect Jesus to make others aware of how deeply he's suffering - especially after he's been declared innocent at least six times in Luke's narrative by three different people - yet in each of the above situations, he ignores his own pain and zeroes in on the pain of others. Can't image how much that cost him psychologically. Paul certainly had that other-directed characteristic of the suffering Jesus in mind when he reminded his Philippian community in the verse that precedes our liturgical selection, "Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus."

Perhaps that's why it's good to have Deutero-Isaiah's Third Song of the Suffering Servant as our first reading, especially the part in which the prophet states, "Morning after morning Yahweh opens my ear that I may hear." The authentic follower of Yahweh (or the risen Jesus) hits the floor every morning, listening or watching for the pain of others. Luke's Jesus teaches us that no matter how much we're personally suffering, we're still called to recognize and help alleviate the pain of others around us - even if some of those others are the very people causing our suffering.

This week, above all others, should be the place and time in which we most try to become other Christs, even if psychologically we'd rather give ourselves over to more rewarding projects. The life Jesus received only came after the many deaths he endured.