April 6, 2017
Father Charles Puthota
There is a story from William Barclay about a missionary in rural India who had just finished telling the story of Jesus to a crowd of people. Then he began showing the life of Jesus in lantern slides thrown against the whitewashed wall of a house. When the cross appeared on the wall, a man rose from the crowd and ran to the front of the wall. “Come down from that cross, son of God,” he cried. “I, not you, should be hanging there.”
As we begin Holy Week this Palm Sunday, we are profoundly moved by what Jesus will face on Good Friday. The cross has the power to cut through our hearts and convict us. All the sin and evil of all time in the world conspired to have Jesus crucified. In his death, we have found life. In his sacrifice, we have been ransomed. In his crucifixion, we have been redeemed from the ancient forces of darkness and evil. Thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross, we are filled with grace; we are free; we can hope; we are at peace; we are now the children of God capable of the fullness of life. Hence the proudest symbol of our faith: the cross.
Aided by prayer, penance, and charity in Lent, we have arrived at Palm Sunday, to journey with Jesus to the cross. The symbols are clear. The palms are held up. Hosannas are shouted, but Jesus rides a donkey, not a warhorse. He is king in a radically different sense. His kingdom is characterized not by pomp and power, servitude and fear, but by love and service, by freedom and peace, by humility and sacrifice. He is the king who refuses to lord it over us. He is the king who would wash the feet of his people, a king who will throw his life away so that we may have life and have it abundantly.
The word of God dwells on Jesus’ suffering. The suffering servant in Isaiah prefigures Jesus and speaks for him. The Responsorial Psalm 22 alludes to Jesus being mocked and abandoned, but he will continue to trust in God. Paul in the ancient Christological hymn celebrates Jesus’ self-emptying humility and obedience to the point of dying on the cross, only to be exalted by his father above everyone and everything. The Passion narrative from Matthew shows Jesus, the son of God, suffering silently, fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament.
The divine mysteries we enter this Holy Week are pivotal in the life of Jesus as well as in our own. These are the days for which the first days of Jesus existed. His incarnation, his birth, preaching, teaching, healings, driving out the demons, table fellowship with sinners – everything is meant as preparation for these days when he will enter Jerusalem, preach his final message, wash the feet of his disciples, institute the Eucharist and priesthood, will be betrayed, arrested, will die on the cross, and rise from the dead.
We are not spectators of the last days of Jesus. Our lives are intimately connected with these events because they are life-giving mysteries. Our salvation, our ability to see redemptive grace in suffering, our battles against evil in the world, our capacity to make sense of human existence, our hope for resurrection after death – all these are possible because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our dying and rising in the midst of life is possible because of Jesus’ dying and rising from the dead. The grace we experience every moment flows from God, thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The abiding grace of the Holy Week, therefore, is for us to be renewed in faith and love as we walk with Jesus through Via Dolorosa, stand with Mary at the foot of the cross, and rejoice with Jesus in his resurrection.
Father Puthota is pastor of St. Veronica Church, South San Francisco, and director of pastoral ministry for the archdiocese.