The mystery of the Passion of Jesus

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The Holy Week (Semana Santa) begins with the Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, which takes us into an extended meditation on the passion and death of Jesus Christ. Saint Matthew’s account (26:14-27:66) presents Him as the Messiah according to the testimony of Sacred Scriptures and as the redeemer of all humankind. Meditating on the Passion of Jesus is vital for Christians because the Passion inaugurates our New Covenant with God.

A doer of God’s will

IN his afflictions Jesus was not a victim of circumstances; he was freely fulfilling God’s will, the divine plan for the salvation of the world. The passion narrative, a collection of episodes on Jesus’ last days from specific theological perspectives, starts off with the betrayal by Judas (26:14-16), hinging on the 30 pieces of silver, the worth of the services of the rejected shepherd (Zechariah 11:12) and the legal indemnity for the life of a servant (Exodus 21:32). Jesus is portrayed as the shepherd and servant rejected by his people, a tragedy that played out in the garden of Gethsemane. The distress of Jesus “sorrowful even to death” recalls heart-rending longing and suffering for God (Psalm 42:6. 12; Jonah 4:9). The reference to the cup Jesus was to drink insinuates that His passion is His lot in the world foreknown by God (Psalm 11:6; Lamentations 4:2; Isaiah 51:17. 22). The day’s passion story ends with animosity, as it begun with treachery, when the enemies of Jesus insisted that His grave be secured lest His followers claim later His resurrection. Despite themselves, His opponents were the agents through whom God’s plan unfolded.

Jesus Himself interpreted the unfolding events as simply the fulfillment of the Scripture; He was not defeated by the inevitable, He was in charge of His destiny. He was obediently carrying out His Father’s plan. The time of His death and resurrection is the kairos time (26:18), the decisive moment bringing to fulfillment the promises of God (26:54, 56).

A giver of new life

IN the institution of the Eucharist (26:26-29), the Old Testament covenant sacrifice is alluded to by the reference to Jesus’ “blood of the covenant” (Exodus 24:8). By the covenant sacrifice God had forged a common bond with the people, and the people in turn were expected to respond with a new quality of life. Also, God had promised, “Because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free” (Zechariah 9:11). Matthew gives us an image of Jesus whose life’s blood was about to be poured out in sacrifice as establishing the New Covenant between God and humankind. In this new love relationship, all prisoners of sin and death will be liberated, and in their new freedom humanity is called to be faithful to God. In the Eucharist, we celebrate and participate in this New Covenant in the blood of Jesus as we are freed from the power of evil and darkness.

Ushering in the day of the Lord

During the trial, the silence of Jesus recalls the suffering servant in Isaiah who was “silent and opened not his mouth” like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). The spitting, mockery and brutality exercised on Jesus evoke the maltreatment and injustice done to the innocent one (Isaiah 50:4-7). “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our suffering that he endured… He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins” (Isaiah 53:4-5). On the cross, Jesus was truly the just and innocent one offering his life in expiation for others. And his “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (27:46), so often misunderstood as a cry of discouragement and despair, is but the opening line of Psalm 22, a prayer beginning with a lament but concluding in triumphant joy and confidence in God! The abuses, the derision, the division of his garments, the casting of lots for his clothing were details from the psalm to ensure that we see Jesus as the innocent one whose misery “God has not spurned or disdained” (Psalm 22:25).

Alálaong bagá, the passion of Jesus out of his fidelity to God was not in vain or a defeat. The suffering servant’s trust in God is rewarded there and then by a theophany. The earthquake, the darkness, and the saints rising and being seen underscore the good news that the death of Jesus has ushered in the long-awaited triumphant Day of the Lord (Amos 8:9). The sanctuary curtain of the temple torn from top to bottom symbolizes that the new way of relating with God is now no longer through the rituals of the temple but through and in Jesus Christ. His passion and death brought salvation and new life to the world.

Join me in meditating on the Word of God every Sunday, from 5 to 6 a.m. on DWIZ 882, or by audio streaming on www.dwiz882.com.

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