All through our liturgical year, starting with Advent, marching through Christmas with shepherds and magi — the ignorant and the erudite — we finally arrive at this grim time in his history, witnessing and feeling the last sufferings of Jesus Christ.
Who is this Man who, in three short years, boldly claimed what he could do for us? Even though he described the forgiving and caring nature of God, he did not cringe from boldly assertive “I” phrases such as —
I am the Good Shepherd
I am the vine; you are the branches
I am the bread of life
When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.
Bold teachings, but gently delivered, as Isaiah wrote: A bruised reed he will not break (42:3). The ones he reached out to were the suffering, the ones the higher-ups didn’t care about. Those referred to as the “remnant,” the useless left-overs of society, he approached with loving compassion and new hope.
John the Baptist, seen by many as a holy man, was nearly as bold as the One he announced, as he cried out:
Behold the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world.
These words are so often spoken and heard that they float almost unnoticed through our minds. The sacrificial “Lamb of God” phrase is easy to grasp, but I, for one, struggled with those words about “taking away sin.” A language problem for sure, because for me, “taking away” meant removing. Would that it were so! Obviously, sin is still with us, alive and thriving. This is where Jesus gives us the vision of God’s limitless compassion and how we are its beneficiaries.
Sins forgiven are sins taken away.
If all of us were to practice what Jesus the Christ taught on this earth, we would surely have entered the Kingdom of God, forgiven for any of our sins, for all of our unloving behaviors. Totally human, Jesus demonstrated perfect holiness by forgiving the cruelty and injustice of his judges and executioners. Such is the holiness we are invited to share with him and our heavenly Father. This is the divinisation spoken of by Saints Athanasius and Augustine. Recall what Jesus said in defense of his status as son of God: Don’t your scriptures say, “You are gods”? (John 10:34)
No wonder legal-minded “spiritual” leaders of his day worried about this Jesus person. They must have thought, “Where will we be if we let him get away with these egotistical pronouncements? Where will we be If he lets these sinners loose, if he lets these polluted people run rampant over our old, time-tested law that’s been holding us together for centuries? Our old dependable law will melt into oblivion. We’ll be lost! How bold, how revolutionary, to teach something so extravagantly new! To sit with sinners, to mingle in friendship with the unclean!”
Oh yes, this was indeed a revolution, an unthinkably dangerous way of treating the riff-raff. Of all things! The playing field would be leveled!
And so we find ourselves this week at the climax of Christ’s Passion in its twofold sense: on fire to draw others into the Kingdom of God; acceptance of suffering to legitimize his message. The command Jesus heard from the Father, and obeyed, has been spoken to us. We too can join Christ as heirs of God.
The way is simple in the sense of uncomplicated, yet accessible even to the un-schooled. Jesus entered the Holy City of Jerusalem as a poor man would, not on a silk-covered chair transported by slaves, and not upon a horse, the symbol of worldly power, wealth, and oppression.
Just days ago we witnessed the near destruction of one of our most cherished cathedrals, Notre Dame of Paris.
What timing! How can we not be reminded of Christ’s audacious claim: Destroy this temple and in three days I will restore it!
When St. Francis of Assisi heard a call to “restore the church,” in his simplicity he thought of the local church building needing repairs. It didn’t take long for him to realize the call was for him to model a return to the humble truths of the Gospel.
Yet even after two thousand years, we are far from practicing what Christ taught, even though he gave his life to prove it, and even though he was resurrected in order to continue his teachings through the many disciples to come.
God is the only One of kingly status. He does not need or ask for palaces, elaborate clothing, elaborate gifts, or complicated directives that only scrupulous, punctilious minds can explain, much less follow.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are the meek, the merciful, the ones who mourn, who make peace, who yearn for justice.
My yoke is easy, my burden is light.
Love one another as I have loved you.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:35)