Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday. We hear the proclamation of the Passion. This year it is according to the Gospel of Matthew. The Passion story is full of drama, intrigue, confrontation, violence, brutality, conflict and passion. What there is not so much of is blood and gore. Unlike some movies about the Passion of Christ that emphasize the physical goriness of crucifixion, St. Matthew makes it only a passing comment: “After they had crucified him…” There is no dwelling on the act of crucifixion.
The emphasis of the Gospel writers is not on the intensity of the pain and suffering, but rather on the mental attitude and inner disposition of Jesus. The point is the interior fidelity of Jesus to the Will of God. It is captured beautifully in Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus prays, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!”
This attitude is called obedience. Jesus saves us not by the amount He suffered, but by His complete obedience to the Will of the Father. It is not the Father’s Will that Jesus suffer horribly, but rather that Jesus remain faithful no matter what. And that is what Jesus does. By His obedience to the Father’s Will, Jesus effects His sacrifice.
Sacrifice is not ultimately about suffering or pain. The English word sacrifice comes from two Latin words, “sacra” (meaning holy or sacred) and “facere” (meaning to make). Sacrifice is really about “making holy.” Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is not about how much he suffered, but about how totally in tune with the Father’s Will Jesus was, or in other words, how obedient Jesus was.
Jesus saved us not by hurting a lot, but rather by healing the wound of our refusal to recognize God as Creator and ourselves as creatures and then going off doing our own thing, disobedient to the Will of God. Jesus makes it possible, even in the very worst of circumstances, even in crucifixion, to remain faithful and obedient to God. That is Jesus’ real sacrifice.
This is also called a “sacrifice of praise,” because to recognize God as God, and conform ourselves to God’s Will, is really the highest form of praise. This is also how the Mass is a sacrifice. We are all invited to associate ourselves with the one sacrifice of Jesus in adopting interiorly Jesus’ attitude of obedience, recognizing God as God, and ourselves as beloved children of God.
Have a blessed Passion Sunday!