“The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:5-6)
Dear friends, I welcome us to Holy Week. This week is called holy because in it we shall be re-enacting the greatest event of history since the creation of the world: the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We have just read the Passion Narrative according to Mark, let us now put ourselves into the characters of this story and watch how it relates to us today.
1. The Passion is a Story of Betrayal.
Our people say that it is the rat inside the house that goes to inform other rats outside that there is food in the house. The enemy outside cannot succeed without the cooperation of the enemy inside. This boils down to the person of Judas Iscariot. Nevertheless, let us look inwards: “Haven’t I betrayed my close friends in the past?” Dear friends, if it happened to Jesus, it can happen to you. Those you consider as your best friends and trusted allies today can turn their backs on you. Trust only in God.
2. The Love of Money is the Root of All Evil (1 Timothy 6:10)
What was Judas’ motivation for selling Jesus? Money. The greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. (Mark 12:30-31). When our love for money becomes greater than our love for God and neighbour, we become worse than Judas Iscariot. Remember Job 1:21 – “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there.” All your efforts to grab, accumulate and possess things becomes useless if we lose our soul in the process. (Matthew 16:26). Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver; an amount he never got to spend.
3. The Passion is a Story of Giving.
The woman who anointed Jesus with her expensive ointment teaches us the need to give God our very best. Am I using my talents for the glory of God? Or am I like Cain who offered that which is only good for the dustbin? In the Passion, we find the greatest act of giving anyone could do – Jesus gave us his very body and blood in the Holy Eucharist.
At the beginning of Lent, we said the three pillars of this season are fasting, prayer and almsgiving. How well have I fared in terms of giving during this period? Remember on the last day, we shall be judged based on how well we give or refused to give. “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Matthew 25:41-43.
4. The Passion Questions our Prayer Life.
Jesus took the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray but instead, they started sleeping. How deep and serious is my prayer life? How come I am able to watch a movie or a football match for over two hours but I consider it a punishment to pray for one hour?
How did Jesus pray? Did he try to command God? NO. He said: “Abba Father … remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.” (Mark 14:36). In my prayer, do I ask for God’s will to be done or my own will?
5. The Passion teaches us to Avoid Boasting.
The disciples all promised to remain with Jesus. When they were eventually faced with Roman soldiers, they all took to their heels including Peter who boasted: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” (Luke 22:33). Am I like Peter whose action betrayed his words when faced with danger? A Christian who is not ready to suffer for Christ’s sake is not yet a true follower of Christ. Jesus said: “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:38)
6. The Passion teaches us to please God rather than men.
Pilate knew Jesus was innocent “for he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.” (Mark 15:10). Pilate, like Aaron who made a golden calf for the people, was more interested in appeasing the crowds than following his conscience. If I was Pilate, what would I have done differently? Many joined in shouting “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” just because others were doing so. Am I a crowd-pleaser?
7. The Passion teaches us Humility.
In our Second Reading today, we heard Paul writing to the Philippians saying: “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8). The Passion celebrates the deep-seated humility of Jesus.
In conclusion, the Passion Narrative teaches us a lot about ourselves. The bitter truth is humanity has not changed at all since the time of Jesus. We are still ruled by money, we still betray one another, we are still stingy, we do not pray well, and we often act to please the crowd. Let us learn from history and avoid making the mistakes of those who killed Jesus.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, free me from the love of money and the desire to please people. Increase my love and devotion to you especially during this holy week. Amen.
(Palm Sunday. Year B. Bible Study: Isaiah 50:4-7, Psalm 22, Philippians 2:6-11 and Mark 14:1-15:47).