Father Donald Senior, CP

April 14: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Passion through Luke

Lk 19:28-40; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23:56

With Palm Sunday we begin the most intense and solemn week of the church’s liturgical year. While each of the Scripture readings for today is rich and provocative, the Passion narrative tops the list. As we enact the drama of Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem, which is the center of Jewish religious life then and now, we know that looming ahead is the dark tunnel of suffering that Jesus will have to endure.

Like perceptive and skilled artists, each of the evangelists portray the life of Jesus and the gripping moments of his passion in a distinctive way. Over the course of the three-year cycle of the Lectionary we hear proclaimed all four passion narratives — each of the synoptic Gospels in turn on Palm Sunday, and John’s Passion narrative each year on Good Friday. This year — the year of Luke — we hear today his account of Jesus’ suffering.

In listening intently to Luke’s passion account and comparing it to those of the other evangelists, three powerful motifs emphasized in this Gospel stand out for our contemplation. First of all, Luke portrays Jesus as facing the threats posed to him with tenacious fidelity and perseverance. 

In his account of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane — at the very moment his opponents are assembling to arrest him — Luke alone emphasizes the “agony” of Jesus. The Greek term “agonia” is often used of athletes or soldiers as they prepare intensely for a strenuous contest facing them.  So intense is Jesus’ struggle in the face of suffering and death that Luke notes he perspires “as if” with drops of blood. 

Jesus prays “fervently”: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” Luke does not portray Jesus as somehow exempt from anguish in the face of trial and suffering. Even as he prays for deliverance, Jesus steels himself to persevere and not turn back from his mission. 

A sign of the Father’s tender embrace of Jesus flashes through the scene as only in Luke’s account does an angel appear to console him. At the Last Supper in Luke’s account, Jesus had praised disciples as those “who have stood by me in my trials.” Jesus himself is the prime example of such courage.

Second, Luke’s passion account emphasizes Jesus’ exemplary witness during his Passion. At the Last Supper he encourages his disciples to serve as he has done throughout the Gospel (“I am among you as one who serves”). Jesus heals the wounded ear of the high priest’s slave, one of his enemies who had come to arrest him. Jesus’ compassionate glance prompts Peter’s tearful repentance after his threefold denial of Jesus. Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem who mourn for him “(Weep not for me but for yourselves and for your children”). He forgives the very ones who drove the nails into his hands and feet (“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”). He promises paradise to one of the criminals crucified alongside him (“Today you will be with me in paradise”). Commentators have called Luke’s Gospel the “mercy Gospel” and the Lukan Jesus is merciful unto the end.

Finally, Jesus’ last words in Luke’s Passion account express profound trust in God’s love, even as Jesus faces the specter of death: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” These are the beautiful words of Psalm 31 that no doubt had been prayed many times by Jesus during his lifetime and now fall from his lips in his final moment of life.

Trusting in God even as we may be fearful of suffering and death. Striving to forgive others, even those who might harm us. Looking out for the well-being of others even as we may be engulfed in concerns of our own. Through faith, persevering in serving others and leading lives reflective of God’s enduring love for us. These are some of reflections we might draw from Luke’s account of the Passion of Jesus on this Palm Sunday.


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