The way of the cross: atonement

Tom Bartolomeo
Palm Sunday Lent A 2014
Isaiah 50: 4-7, Psalm 22: 8-24
Philolemon 2: 6-11, Matthew 16: 14-27: 66
Reproduced with Permission

When we hear or read the Gospel -- it is God who speaks to us, the better part of prayer. In reading or hearing the Gospel God invites us into the heart and mind of Jesus as Jesus invited his disciples, "Come, follow me." We can then literally 'take part' in the gospel story in our lives. Today's gospel story calls many actors including us into the drama leading to Jesus' death. The gospel is meant to shape our lives as Christians so that some day we may lose our constrained lives in this world for the fullness of life in God's world.

The gospel passage of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion - for his followers before his resurrection - is inconclusive. Jesus' Apostles, disciples and our lives are suspended for days, weeks and years without some direction, meaning and fulfillment. It is the condition of everyone before death.

One Apostle, Judas, who betrays Jesus abruptly ends his life in suicide. Nearly a million distressed people in our country attempt suicide each year. The other Apostles and disciples are distraught and immobilized. How often are we bewildered not knowing, perhaps even doubting the course of our lives. Will we rise from the dead? One Apostle openly confesses his doubt about Jesus rising from the dead, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." Later the risen Jesus resolves Thomas' doubt, "Thomas, 'Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe'," and Thomas believes. (John 20: 26-27). The darkness that envelopes the world at Jesus' death lasts nearly three days.

"Were we there when they crucified our Lord? Were we there when they crucified our Lord? Oh! Oh! Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble . . . ."

Are we there when Jesus is arrested and secreted to the high priest, Annas' house in Jerusalem for questioning and then "sent bound" to the senior high priest', Caiaphas' compound, a few miles outside of Jerusalem for more questioning as John and Peter are following from a distance Jesus and his military escort. The rest of Jerusalem is making preparations for the Passover meal which Jesus and his Apostles had celebrated earlier that evening. We are preparing the celebration of the holiest of our Jewish holy days, the angel of death passing over our ancestors who were freed from slavery fourteen hundred years ago.

Entering deeper into the Gospel we realize how little we know about the events surrounding Jesus and his Apostles, his disciples and us. The events of the evening and the next morning rush upon us, Jesus is seized in the garden outside of Jerusalem, the Apostles are scattered to unknown places, Jesus is taken to the high priest's Annas' house in Jerusalem for interrogation and then transported to the senior high priest Caiaphas' compound some distance outside of Jerusalem for another interrogation. Judas dies and John and Peter are trailing Jesus' movements that evening = none of which we may know or understand. We are all in different parts of the city at Jesus' arrest. One unnamed lone disciple flees into the night when a soldier grabs him by his tunic as he runs off naked. We do not know that either. All the others in the drama only know where they are and what they are doing when they learn and we learn of Jesus' arrest. The rest of that night and early hours of the morning are harrowing before Jesus is brought back into the city like a criminal for his final interrogation by the Roman prefect, Pilate. We suppose that most of Jesus' disciples by noon learn that Jesus has been sentenced to death. Are we there at the trial or the scourging or see the guards mocking Jesus or do we hear about them afterwards? We probably do not know that Pilate had sent Jesus to Herod for his examination and amusement before his conviction. ( When will the interrogations end? ) By afternoon all of Jerusalem knows that Jesus is condemned to death. The crowds and perhaps some of us are following Jesus to his place of execution. There we see at a distance the women who accompanied Jesus during his apostolate and the Apostle John and Jesus' mother who alone stand under the cross on which Jesus is hung and dies.

What we hear and read in the gospel accounts were stories collected over many years, thirty, forty and sixty years, before they were set in writing, the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. So much life and blood bound up in the pages of the Gospel. We would think all good followers of Jesus today would read His Gospel, frequently, teach their children the Gospel and take a measure of their commitment to Christ. Christians. Not even Jesus' Apostles claimed his body for burial except two recent converts, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, two members of the ruling body of Pharisees who had Jesus crucified. So many contradictions.

We could hear or read about the last days of Jesus as an historical event only and find ourselves in the streets of Jerusalem still wandering around aimlessly. In reading or hearing God's account of His Son's life and death Jesus complained mostly about hypocrites, pretenders who fashion their own kind of goodness and believe God approves. They interpret God's law as they choose and build their houses of self-deception. Listen to Jesus explain.

'Two men went up to the temple to pray, [Jesus said] one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income." But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other. (Luke 18: 10-14).

What say we before the God who saves us?