THE MERCY OF JESUS IN SPITE OF HIS OWN SUFFERINGS
(A biblical refection on PALM (PASSION) SUNDAY [YEAR C] – 20 March 2016)
Gospel Reading during Procession: Luke 19:28-40; First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalms: Psalm 22:8-9,17-20,23-24; Second Reading: Philippians 2:6-11; Gospel Reading: Luke 22:14-23:56 (Luke 23:1-49)
Today’s Gospel reading, preparing us for the week ahead, is the passion account by Saint Luke. Although similar to the other Gospels, it makes unique contributions to enrich our faith in the suffering of Jesus. The following, for example, are some unparalleled Lucan passages. He alone mentions the sweating of blood (Luke 22:44); the shuffling Jesus between Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-25); the conversations of Jesus and the two criminals as they hang on the crosses (Luke 23:39-43). Also peculiar to Luke is the discourse between Jesus and the women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-28), and the healing of the servant’s ear which had been cut off by a sword in the garden Luke 22:50-51).
It appears that Luke was trying to show the ministering mercy of Jesus to the very end, in spite of His own personal sufferings. He views Jesus as the man in the middle, serving, uniting and bringing peace to all who come into contact with Him. It’s ironic how His trial brought a sense of unity to the country of Israel, by establishing friendship between the Roman, Pilate, ruler of the South and the Northern leader, Herod the Jew. Jesus too was the midst of the Jerusalem women, giving them courage on His road to death.
Dying between two criminals, one jeering, the other supporting, He ministered with the promise of paradise. He hung between earth and sky, between God and humanity, with the rough wooden beams crossing between His head and heart. Both realistically and symbolically, Jesus was and is the center of salvation history – never faltering but manifesting courageous love under pressure.
One final unique contribution by Luke is the passage about the agony in the garden, where an angel came to minister to Jesus. The angel is unnamed and unknown and perhaps, we think, unnecessary – for what can one insignificant angel do for the Son of God? His visit does help Jesus, giving Him needed strength and support simply by his presence. The human fall in the Garden of Paradise had necessitated the Garden of Gethsemane, with a new Adam and a new beginning. Jesus was tempted to side-step the approaching agony, praying: “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:42 RSV). But, perhaps aided by the presence of the unknown angel, He accepted the bitter choice.
Like angels, we can minister to others – even those more powerful and intelligent – simply by our presence in times of need. On Holy Thursday we recall the Last Supper, the First Mass, the institution of the Priesthood, and the washing of the feet, but don’t forget that it’s also the anniversary of the agony in the garden. Can we, like the nameless angel, spend some quiet time with the Lord that night by our physical presence in church? Can we also stand near His cross the next day? We may hear Him whisper our name with a promise of paradise.
Note: Adapted from Rev. James McKarns, GO TELL EVERYONE – A Commentary on Sunday Readings Cycles A-B-C, Makati, Philippines: St. Paul Publications, 1985, pages 211-213.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, only through Your mercy could You have sent Your Son to save us. Jesus, only through Your love for the Father could You have emptied Yourself for our salvation. Holy Spirit, only in love between the Father and the Son could You have carried out our salvation. We are in awe of Your glory, O God the Holy Trinity; we worship and thank You. Amen.
Jakarta, 18 March 2016
A Christian Pilgrim