This Palm Sunday, listening again to the Passion of our Lord, it struck me how nearly every word spoken by those other than Our Lord is imbued with unwitting irony by the speaker. Again and again, the players on this Divine stage ultimately say things that are profoundly true, but they utter these things without any semblance of understanding.
Let’s consider a few examples.
“If you are the Messiah, tell us.” -Lk. 22:67
An amazing request. Perhaps Jesus had this demand in mind when He once said, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus had been telling the chosen people about Himself for centuries. Again and again He fulfilled long awaited prophesies. Many of those demanding to know whether He was the Messiah were present at their fulfillment. “Tell us?” He had been telling them continually for the three years of His public ministry and again and again through Moses and the prophets.
They had been told, but they had not the ears to hear.
“What further need have we for testimony? We have heard it from his own mouth.” -Lk. 22:71
A truer statement about Divine Revelation was never spoken! Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and John the Baptist gave testimony that pointed to Him. Great prophets all. And yet, they are all “not worthy to loose his sandal strap.” For, "In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe."
Through the Son! What further need of testimony, then, could one desire? For, echoing the words of St. Paul, the Pharisees rightly proclaim, they have “heard it from His own mouth.” Paul himself was a Pharisee. It makes one wonder whether, before his conversion, as he was persecuting Christians for Jesus’ believed blasphemy, he himself shouted, “We have heard it from his own mouth!” Later, he would “proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.” That He was the son of God was precisely what the pharisees had said they no longer needed testimony about. Paul finally agreed with them. For, he tells us, he finally learned the Truth: “…it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
“I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us?” Matt. 27:4
When history has written its final words, we may find the saddest story is that of Judas. We are told that night two apostles betrayed Jesus: Judas and Peter. And in the end, they both died hanging from a tree. Judas, by his own hand; Peter, upside down on a cross. Each confesses their sin to a priest. Peter ultimately seeks forgiveness from The High Priest. Judas, however, “confesses” his sin to the priests of the old law. Of course, one of the reasons why the priests accused Jesus of blasphemy is they declared, again, quite ironically, “Who can forgive sins but God alone.” They are quite right in saying to one who has sinned, “What is that to us?” For, the priests of the old law could not stand in Persona Christi.
Would that Judas had met Peter and wept bitterly with him. Imagine if Judas had returned after Our Lord had spoken the words to his first priests, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven.” He could have truly confessed to one of the new priests of the new law—one who had been his friend, perhaps Peter himself—“I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” Far from answering, “What is that to me?” Peter may have answered "He forgave me my denial when I wept bitterly. May this same God, through me, a sinner, forgive you both in this age and in the age to come."
“I…have not found this man guilty of the charges you have brought against him…Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.” Lk. 23:16
A terribly apt description of losing sanctifying grace. We are rightly horrified by Pilate’s plan to punish the innocent Christ, and yet this is precisely what each mortal sins consists: giving one’s full consent to an evil that one knows is gravely wrong. Each sin entails our soul passing judgement upon Christ, finding Him innocent, but choosing instead to have him flogged. And, when this sin is mortal, we ourselves release Christ from our souls. He never abandons us; we release Him.
“Not this one but Barabbas!” -Jn. 18:40
Barabbas, bar abbas, Bar-abbâ, literally meaning, "Son of the father."
Literally, "Not this one! We want the son of the father!"
This is an ironic reminder for us that we far too often ignore God's answer to our prayer because we have in mind the answer the way we want it to look. I fear that I may have been one of those crying out for the "Son of the father" and not recognized Him because of the way He looked: covered in blood for my sake.
“His blood be upon us and upon our children.” -Mt. 27:25
The Jews shout this as a kind of curse upon themselves. However, it is of course every Christian’s prayer that they and their children should receive the Blood of Christ. As Pope Benedict XVI notes, “the Christian will remember that Jesus' blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel: it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all.” I have often wondered that if the merciful God, who forgives our sins through even imperfect contrition, ultimately turns what is meant to be a curse into a blessing. We know that almost all the first Christians were Jews. Some were believers from the beginning. But some, like St. Paul, came to desire the blood of Christ after repenting. For, in the end, all receive the Blood of Christ who ask for It.
“Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” -Lk. 23:39
Two thieves hung with Our Lord on the cross. Two thieves asked Our Lord to save them. One thief asked sincerely. One feared only for his body, the other feared only for his soul. “Save yourself and us.” The thief speaks a great irony here, for, in the Divine plan, our salvation is predicated upon Jesus not saving Himself! It is the greatest cause and effect in all human history. The thief desires the effect without the cause. He speaks for all sinners throughout time who desire Christ without His cross; the Resurrection without the Passion. The good thief would see Christ the King on His heavenly throne that day because he recognized Him nailed to His earthly throne.
Cause and effect.
The felix culpa, the happy fault.
The good thief knew well the fault, now he would forever live the happiness. And may that be true of us as well.
A blessed Holy Week to you all.