Sunday, April 9, 2017

Passion (Palm) Sunday: Holy Week begins

When writing about or preaching on the readings for Passion (Palm) Sunday one can choose either to go long, normal length, or short. Given that there are two Gospels, my tendency is to go long, but for this post my aim is to go shorter. Since I am composing this off-the-cuff, we'll see (I need to be a little light-hearted in the beginning because my thoughts are heavy).

At the Vigil Mass yesterday evening, as I was reading the Narrator's part of the Passion According to St. Matthew, I became choked up as I read these words:
Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done. He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? Look to it yourself." Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself (Matt 27:3-5
After Mass I found myself wondering, "What if?"

"What if instead of trying to return the money, Judas had gone to the Lord and expressed his remorse? What would this have cost Judas?" In pondering the second question, I thought to myself, "It couldn't have been worse than the punishment he inflicted on himself." Maybe I am projecting, but it seems to me we are good at eschewing God's mercy, preferring instead the punishment we think we deserve and that, in some sense, we might actually deserve.

Even though Jesus' life was not taken from him- he laid it down of his own will, which was the will of the Father to which he resigned himself- Jesus proclaimed woe on the one whose betrayal led to his death. Since Jesus died for our sins- mine and yours- it is our betrayal, too, that led to his death on the cross. While not seeking to completely exonerate Judas, or putting myself at odds with Sacred Scripture, it is important that we not use Judas as our personal scapegoat, seeking to excuse ourselves for our complicity in Christ's crucifixion. I wish to call attention here to something the author of the Letter to the Hebrews pointed out to his readers- "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood" (Heb 12:4). If you have, I beg your pardon. I know I haven't.

Fresco from Vienna, Italy, shows Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss

Idle speculations? Hardly. As John Donne noted in his poem No Man Is An Island,
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee
Because of my personal and, I don't mind saying, traumatic, experiences with suicide, and as someone who struggles quite often with depression, it would be impossible for me to explain in words the emotion that swept over me as I read out loud, "Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself." Only a deep breath, taken at the wrong moment, saved my voice from cracking. Faces of people I know and love who have either taken their own lives, or have made serious attempts to do so, came before my mind's eye. I guess if I had to put it into words those words would be sorrowful grief.

Given the fact that most of us Christians have betrayed Jesus for far less than thirty pieces of silver, what better way to end this post than by invoking this prayer given by our resurrected Lord to St. Faustina: "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world," or perhaps this prayer, given by Our Lady to the blessed children at Fatima: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy."

I believe that Pope Francis is quite right, "The name of is Mercy." If it isn't, then we're doomed. Another name for Mercy is Jesus.

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