Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
March 16, 2008
Isaiah 50:4-9a Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11 St. Matthew 26:14—27:66
This is a very well known story. We hear it year after year. The story of the Passion of our Lord. The term Passion refers to the suffering and agony of Jesus. And this story is filled with much suffering and agony. The movie of the Passion of the Christ has sort of fixed in the minds of any who have watched it, a kind of suffering and agony that focuses, in my mind, far too much on the physical. Not that I’m trying to dismiss the physical pain and agony that Jesus surely felt. But Jesus also felt more than that.
There is more to suffering and agony that just the physical component. While our passion narrative for today does speak of the physical torment which Jesus is eventually called upon to endure, it is only a very small part of the story, a point that is certainly missed in “The Passion of the Christ”. There is another passion found right from the very beginning. It is the suffering and agony of betrayal. This is a stuffing I’m sure some of us have experienced at some point in our lives. Jesus experienced it over and over again in the story we have just heard told today.
Jesus first experiences the betrayal of Judas. This betrayal was up close and personal. It was sealed with a kiss. A sign of compassion and tenderness is twisted into the evil of betrayal. But Judas is only the first of the disciples to betray his master, his teacher.
Then Jesus experiences the betrayal of the rest of the disciples, all of whom abandon him. Jesus’ closest followers, his friends and constant companions for the past three years fail him and flee when the chips are down. The shared experiences of their life with him were not strong enough to cover come the feelings of fear and terror as they saw their leader being arrested.
Next Jesus experiences the betrayal of Peter who denies him not once, but three times. In spite of a warning ahead of time and Peter’s most ardent claim of loyalty: “even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” Peter was one of the impetuous types who seemed to always fail the count the cost before he opened his mouth. When he was faced with the fear of being treated like he saw Jesus being treated, his bravado failed him.
Jesus then experiences the betrayal of Pilate, who knowing he is innocent, nevertheless washes his hands of the matter and sends him to his death. This is the betrayal by power and government.
Finally Jesus suffers the ultimate betrayal of feeling forsaken by God. The human Jesus feels the abandonment of God.
According to the Gospel of Matthew the only people who do not betray and abandon Jesus are the “many women”, even though they are described as “looking on from a distance.” Those who represented power and prestige, the men, in that time, all abandoned Jesus at his greatest moment of need for company and support. And instead those considered the weakest by society, those who had no value, the women, they are the ones who remained faithful to Jesus.
Peter, who swore faithfulness – gone. James and John who wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in his kingdom – gone. All the disciples – gone. Justice and fairness – gone. Even it seemed that God was gone. All that remained were these faithful women, including one who the Church will give the title “apostle to the apostles”, Mary Magdala.
Most, if not all, of us have experienced feelings of betrayal or abandonment at some point in our life. It can be gut wrenching and destructive to our selves and our self esteem. We can feel totally abandoned and forgotten. But that is never true for the Christian. For we have a God who has experienced every kind of betrayal known to humanity. God stands with us in our times of abandonment. We do not have to be alone.
Often we struggle with why things happen in the world to ourselves or others. There are rarely easy or satisfactory answers to these struggles. Often they are the results of actions or inactions of others in the world. That was the basis for all the betrayal Jesus felt. It was from the actions or inactions of those around him. Jesus was betrayed by those who were actually closest to him. The deepest wounds are sometimes be inflicted by those most close to us.
On the other hand, after all the talk of people betraying us, sometimes, so of us may feel that, like Peter and the others that we are the ones who have betrayed God. This can be a terrible burden to try and carry. But just think for a minute about how God used each of those people. There were no recriminations from God or Jesus about betrayal. Instead, God used each and everyone one of them to do powerful things. Probably they, as Paul discovered it is through our weaknesses that God’s power can be made most manifest in our own lives.
I pray that out of all this, we can find both hope and comfort in the knowledge of a God who understands exactly how we feel because Jesus has felt that way at one point as well.