Today’s very long Gospel reading really brought home something for me that I had never noticed in the Palm Sunday reading before: and that is just how very much we are like the people presented in the Gospel account of the Last Supper and the Passion and Death of Our Lord. I think the reason this stuck out for me was because it’s something I’ve been becoming more aware of throughout Scripture. Several times recently I’ve heard one person or another try to explain away God’s Word and the teachings of the Church by claiming that, while those teaching might have been fine for a less enlightened and more stupid people, we’ve evolved beyond them and no longer need them.
Balderdash. That attitude is pure arrogance. Pure condescension. People haven’t changed. We’re the same now as we ever were — and that is both good and bad. No amount of pride or hypocrisy will change that. Sure — we have Xbox and Disneyland and the ancients didn’t, but if the power grid suddenly goes down for a few weeks or months, we will all find out very quickly and very painfully just how many skills and how much knowledge the ancients had that we have lost.
Fundamentally, people really are very much the same. We can see in the world all around us and — if we are willing to be honest — in ourselves the same failings and weaknesses we see on display among the people in today’s Gospel. This is no surprise. We’re human and we’re living in our fallen state. Failings and weaknesses are part of the package.
Of course, we also see some amazing strengths. We see some amazing character. We see actions to which we should all aspire, and so we should all pray for the grace to emulate such successes through actions in our own lives while we work to overcome the weaknesses.
In today’s Gospel, a woman brings an alabaster jar of costly perfume to anoint Jesus. Instead of congratulating her on her thoughtfulness and blessing her for her love of Jesus, there were some there who immediately began gossiping. They called what she did a waste. They looked for the bad instead of seeing the good. They picked apart her motive and jumped to wrong conclusions.
Surely we have all felt the negative effects of gossip in our lives. We have all at one time or another been the subject of hurtful comments. False assumptions. Gossip can do terrible damage to another person, and that’s why it is a sin. And it can be a mortal sin. Let us all pray for the character to refrain from gossiping and seek out the good that others do; let us not twist their good into evil.
In the very next scene in the Gospel account, Judas Iscariot is sneaking away to go betray Christ to the chief priests. Judas chooses money over his Lord. And Judas certainly wasn’t the last person to pick a false god over Christ. Judas is hardly the only person to betray Christ; we see such betrayals in the world today with all too frequent regularity. Let us all pray for the strength to put God first in our lives and to never choose a lesser thing over our greater good.
Then Christ sends two of His disciples into the city to meet a man who will provide a room for them to celebrate the Passover. These two go in faith and discover it to be just as the Lord had told them. How many of us today follow Jesus Christ without reservation, wherever He may lead us? Let us always pray that we may have the strength and the courage to follow Christ as these two did, trusting in him to not lead us astray but knowing that all things will be as He tells us.
That night, Christ institutes the Eucharist. He shows His disciples what they are to do; He gives them the model that we still follow today. It is a love of Christ and of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity truly presented in the Eucharist along with ample grace and the direction of the Holy Spirit that has kept the Mass intact over the long centuries since that night in the upper room. Let us always pray for a true devotion to Christ and the Holy Eucharist and that the ample grace we receive from communion will be active in our lives, leading us to a deeper love of the Mass.
Next follows a long and disturbing passage in which Christ tells his disciples that they will all have their faith shaken, and then He asks them to remain with Him and keep watch for one hour.
Of course we know they are not able to do that and Christ finds them asleep. This leaves me wondering: is their inability to keep watch with him a cause or a function of their shaky faith that night? We know that there are many in today’s world who are faithful during the good times but fall away from the faith when it becomes difficult. Let us always pray that our hours spent with Christ in adoration will strengthen our faith and keep us from abandoning Him when times are hard.
And so it goes throughout the reading. We see the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of human nature. We see absolute cruelty and absolute cowardice. We also see courage and heroics. We see people blindly following the crowd and we see people being pressured into doing things they know are wrong because they fear the repercussions of standing up for what is right. We see so many things that surround us daily and make our world what it is.
In the end, we see Christ on the Cross. Christ suffers and dies, and He dies for the sins of every one of us. Our sins are really no different from the sins of His disciples, or of the people of ancient Jerusalem, or even of the Roman soldiers who beat Him and spit on Him — because that is precisely what we are doing when we sin. In the end, Christ breathed His last.
But of course we all know that wasn’t truly the end. It was a whole new beginning. Even in the manner of His death, Christ showed Himself to be extraordinary. When the centurion saw how Christ died, his eyes were opened and he saw Our Lord. “Truly,” he exclaims, “this man was the Son of God.”
And then comes Joseph of Arimathea, showing great courage. He is described as a man himself awaiting the kingdom of God — a description that could be applied to any of us — and he does the only thing he can think of to do to serve Christ. He approaches Pilate and asks for the body. He wants only to give Jesus a proper burial and in the face of a human law that is swift and brutal, he approaches the man who has the power of life and death and, unconcerned for his own safety or social standing, asks for the body. Joseph — in the face of so much wrong — seeks to do what is right.
Let us pray always that we may have the grace to be more like the courageous and giving Joseph of Arimathea than the cowardly and grasping Judas Iscariot… more of the centurion who recognized Jesus for the Son of God and less of the soldiers who reviled Him. More of the true disciple who sees the truth and rejoices in building it up, and less of the forked-tongue gossip who can only tear down. Let us pray for the grace to overcome our failings and our weaknesses and to live as saints as we await the coming of the Kingdom of God.