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It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him

By 22 March, 2018January 3rd, 2023No Comments
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By F. Luis Casasus, General Superior of Idente Missionaries
Commentary on the Sunday Gospel of 25-3-2018, Passion (Palm) (Book of Isaiah 50:4-7; Letter to the Philippians 2:6-11; Saint Mark 14:1-72.15:1-47)

A few days ago I had a moving experience. A young man, who had been through some difficulties, came with a single concern: How is that most of young people are away from God; how can we help them to find Him? He was grateful, he recognized that God helped him to enter a new phase of his life and he would like to see others to fully benefit from God’s perfect plan for their days.

This is the atmosphere that is breathed in the first part of today’s Gospel, when people spontaneously gathered to welcome the man who did good to so many of their fellow countrymen.

The first important remark is that they shouted: Hosanna! Blessed is He that comes in the Name of the Lord! They were right; He is none other than the Father’s only Son. As we read last Tuesday: You will know that I am He and that I do nothing of myself: what the Father has taught me is what I preach; he who sent me is with me, and has not left me to myself, for I always do what pleases him.

Jesus in not only a prophet, not only a Master or a miracle worker. Ultimately, what we see is his union with the Father and his revelatory power for us is his divine sonship, his filiation. Jesus is essentially son, son of God, but in a way which allows us to see him as a man. This is not just an academic matter: our answer to the identity of Jesus will determine whether we will be saved or not, whether we will participate right now in his kingdom or not. The form and depth of our faith in Jesus will define the way we live our lives accordingly. With the centurion, we say: In truth this was a son of God.

Perhaps we fall into the same trap as the contemporaries of Jesus. Their shouts of acclamation turned quickly into shouts of condemnation; their promise of fidelity to Jesus, replaced by abandonment and denial of having known Him. Their assurance of solidarity with Jesus was overcome by self-love, and their declaration of love was transformed into betrayal. The crowd did not go to the cross.

In our trials and difficulties some of us feel that God has abandoned us. When we see no end to our problems, we cannot but give up hope in God. Some of us even become resentful of Him for not caring for us, but along the way, we lose our direction in life because of difficulties or challenges which seem too daunting for us to handle. Moreover, as happened to the welcoming crowd, when we are under the pressure of our passions, mainly fear and attachment to our reputation: Yes, I will be obedient for the rest of my life. But really, people have to think well of me because I do this. I have to have some ego-gratification. I have to have some praise for being noteworthy because of how much I am sacrificing.

We are grateful because we can really participate in the kingdom of Heaven. Yes, Jesus is a King and there is a very precise form in which He exercises his power. An example of our time?

Several years ago there was a 70-year-old Romanian priest who was thrown into prison because of his faith. However, before he was thrown into prison, he was tortured and beaten so badly that he was close to death. As he laid in the prison dying, it so happened that his torturer, the man who had beaten him almost to death, had himself found disfavor with his superiors, was beaten very badly and then thrown into prison. The witness of this story relates how he was sitting in this prison cell with the half-dead priest on his right side, and the half-dead torturer on his left. As the hours went by and the torturer came closer to death, he kept crying out from his physical pain, but also loudly lamenting over all the evil which he had committed in his life. He said that no one could forgive him for the terrible things he had done.

Then the priest, who was listening, called over several young men to lift him up, because he was too weak to even walk. They carried him over to the man. He sat beside his own torturer, hugged him, caressed his deformed face, and started to tell him about the love and mercy of God. He told the man that He forgave him, even though he had done such evil. He assured him that all the Christians this man tortured had forgiven him and even now loved him. And then he said: Imagine, if we love you and forgive you, how much more does God love you and long to hug you and comfort you.

The torturer was so moved by the actions and words of the priest, that he began crying harder and started to confess all his sins to this priest. Imagine, a murdered man listening to the confession of his own murderer, and telling him of the great love and mercy of God. This is a divine love which only comes from God.

This is the power of love which gives hope to others. The power of love which forgives the greatest evil. The power of love which can recreate people. This unconditional, sacrificial, truly divine love opens up an unending wellspring of power within our lives. Particularly, we cure many kinds of resistant wounds with ours: Through his wounds we are healed (Is 53:5).

In fact, during his Passion, Jesus healed the ear of the high priest’s servant which was wounded in Gethsemane and He also healed the enmity between Herod and Pilate. These two cases (miracles!) are particularly significant, because the hallmark of charity, its litmus test, is conviviality, and Jesus showed he was capable of restoring it even in the dramatic circumstances of his Passion. love of neighbor (the person who is physically near, in my religious institute, in the parish, at the table) is the proof for growth in prayer.

Conviviality is the ability to share more and more things, an increasing number of events in my life: joys, sorrows, dreams, little daily events. Sometimes we forget that conviviality is a fundamental experience and those who have not been given the opportunity to share their deepest and most intimate things, even their everyday little challenges, cannot completely recover from it. No one truly likes being alone. As Marcel Proust said, a solipsist is someone who cannot cope with the disappointment of being ignored. Even that supreme loner Nietzsche wanted other people to understand his work. The true disciple of Christ is the one who can work with others without wanting to dominate or fight them. It is not surprising that the Eucharist is the central act of our liturgy because it makes visible our conviviality with each other and with God in Christ.

We are religious in the genuine sense of the word to the extent we try to reproduce in ourselves the characteristics of Christ’s union with our Heavenly Father by associating ourselves with his attitude towards our Father. It is the beginning of the unitive prayer, by which God prays in us and we become more and more like Him.

The first reading describes, in a vigorous and powerful manner, this transformation, that is not a prize to the most deserving, but a grace to successfully continue fulfilling our mission, which is always new and increasingly demanding: My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. We are enabled to be truly free for God. When we surrender ourselves to His will and His grace, we experience that He will raises us up on high as in the case of Jesus. In the midst of our impotence and misery, we are sure of the final victory.

This is the way we become ambassadors for Christ, as Paul likes to say. As a religious asked himself, does being an ambassador for Christ mean that we are supposed to speak on behalf of Christ and bear the truth about Christ to others? No, that is what a messenger does. A messenger communicates on behalf of someone else; that is not an ambassador. Does being an ambassador for Christ mean that we are supposed to stand in for Christ and do the work that Christ would do in our place? No, that is what a representative does. A representative stands in for someone else who is not present and acts on their behalf. That is not an ambassador. An ambassador lives in a foreign land, and travels far away from home, away to another country, to live among people with different values and different laws. But there in that foreign land, the ambassador lives according to the laws of their own home country. Saint Paul was really inspired by using this metaphor.

What is the first requirement to be a good ambassador of Christ? Detachment. Abnegation. Self-sacrifice. A serious effort at prayer leads us to die to ourselves and to comforts, to our apparently little idols.

The highest form of freedom is to surrender our freedom to the Lord by accepting His holy will. In reality, when we obey Him, we come closer to our true nature, which is mutual union, complete sharing and a joyful surrender:

A holy man was saying his morning prayers under a tree whose roots stretched out over a river bank. During his prayers he noticed that the river was rising and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown. So the holy man reached down to try and free the scorpion. But each time the man tried to help the scorpion, the scorpion responded by trying to sting the man. An observer came along and said to the holy man: Don’t you know that creature is a scorpion, and the nature of a scorpion is to sting? To which the holy man replied: That may be true, but don’t you know that I am a Christian, and the nature of a child of God is to save. Why should I change my nature simply because the scorpion does not change its nature?

If we say that Jesus is our King, then we must follow Him in His passion of abnegation and humility. With Christ, we are called to give hope and courage to those who are hopeless and helpless in their lives. And to do that, maybe we need not to look so far.