The Other Passion of Jesus

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

We now come to the feast of Palm or Passion Sunday; Palm Sunday because on this day we commemorate with the waving of palm leaves the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem -- the decisive step that led to His death and resurrection for our redemption; Passion Sunday because the Passion of Jesus (Mt. 27:11-54) is read at Mass. Palm or Passion Sunday ushers in the Holy Week which culminates in our three-day celebration of the Paschal Mystery -- Jesus' Passion (Holy Thursday), Death (Good Friday) and Resurrection (Easter Sunday).

Earlier, the Evangelists had pointed out that Jesus had "set his face towards Jerusalem." Now, He was there! He was received by the people like a king returning to his capital city after triumphing in a decisive battle over his enemies. The people lined the streets and cried their "Hosannahs" which meant "Save us now!"

But they had their own meaning of their cries of Hosannah. After hearing about Jesus and seeing Him in action, especially the miracles He performed, they wanted Him to declare Himself in the holy city as the Messiah and lead them in a holy war against the Romans. They realized that even if the Romans had the most powerful army on earth, they could defeat them if they had Him for their leader. Never mind if for now He was riding a lowly donkey, the symbol of powerlessness.

In a few days, the picture would change. At Jesus' arrest and trial, especially when He stood before Pilate, the symbol of Roman power among the Jews, He looked so pitiable, so meek and literally "like a sheep ready for slaughter." Even the apostles, who were with Him during His entire public life, abandoned Him. Their own leader, Peter, betrayed Him -- three times! This because their high expectations of Him were not met; He was one big disappointment. Seeing all these, the people now shouted "Give us Barabbas!" and "Crucify Him!" And in no time at all, Jesus was put to a most cruel death -- by crucifixion.

When we talk about the Passion of Jesus, we usually refer to His arrest, trial, scourging and the carrying of the cross to Calvary. True. But there is another way of looking at Jesus' Passion. Dennis Mcbride, in his book Seasons of the Word: Reflections on the Sunday Readings, has a meditation titled Grand Passion which tells us about this passion as follows:

"... (T)he passion is not just something that is done to Jesus by others, it is a power within Jesus, his passion, that enables him to face the violence and the pain. Jesus has a grand passion, one that consumes his whole person and drives him through this time of horror. He could have avoided coming south to Jerusalem; he could have compromised and settled for survival. But the passion that is in him is grander than his need for security and survival. He is a passionate man. His ardent love insists that he face the ultimate test of love. The cross.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus has revealed the reaches of his own passion. His undying urge to do his Father's will. His preference for the poor and abandoned. His fury at religious authority that only invents new burdens for people. His energetic love for those who are handicapped in life. His open disappointment with those who are economical with love and forgiveness. His way of having basketfuls and jars of plenty. His outlandish attachment to those who count themselves worthless. His loyalty to those who have deserted him. None of this emerges from a man who is timid and frugal in his ways; it reveals a man of grand passion.

In the end the cross comes as no surprise: it is the penalty for making a habit of such extravagant love.

The cross of Jesus stands at the centre of the Christian story as the sign of the lengths love will go to in its passion for others. If we ever wonder if we are really loved, we should look at the figure of the cross. It is difficult to maintain that we are unloved when we know that someone thought we were worth dying for. The cross is lifted up as a sign of our worth: somebody thought we were worth all that pain and suffering. And that somebody is Jesus, Son of God."

By way of conclusion, Mcbride says:

"We remember the death of Jesus not as an arbitrary, heedless act of violence; rather, we honor his death as the supreme act of love. The love of one who "did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself" to become as we all are; and as we are to show that, in spite of our sins and stupidities, God loves us. That is the heart of the passion story. All else is commentary."

As we begin Holy Week, let us reflect on this other passion of Jesus. It will help us to understand why he had to go through his cruel passion and death for our redemption. Finally, it will help us to live our own life with passion as Jesus did His.