By Emily Pries
For The Catholic Messenger
In this Palm Sunday’s Gospel, we see the culmination of Jesus’ 33 years of life and ministry. All the time he spent cultivating relationships with his disciples, walking with them, teaching them, sharing meals and showing them the Way — only to be betrayed by the friends he thought would be there with him until the end.
‘“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over” (Matt 26:15-16).
Can you imagine the pain and anguish, not only to endure the visceral suffering that Christ endured, but the deep, penetrating grief in knowing that those you loved and who had loved you in return had ultimately turned against you? Jesus answered him, “Friend, do what you have come for” (Matt 26:50).
As we walk the journey of Christ’s final day with him in the Gospel, I consider how I feel as I participate in praying the Stations of the Cross. I think about the many people Christ encounters along the way — Simon, forced to carry Jesus’ cross, an unwilling bystander with this duty, this heavy chore thrust upon him in Jesus’ time of need. How many times have we had an experience like this? We don’t know how to help — and maybe we don’t really want to. We’re paralyzed by fear, shame and the unknown so we just go along with the crowd. Sometimes, even in these forced support roles we take on in friendship, in service or assistance to someone whom we know and love or to a complete stranger, we learn, grow, and find that the interaction makes a difference in the life of those we help. It breaks and changes our hearts as we walk this difficult road with someone we never expected to walk with.
In Jesus’ final moments he cries out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). Have you ever felt forgotten, forsaken, abandoned by God? Even Jesus, in his suffering, felt this way. He asks in prayer, three times, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:42). The words of Amazing Grace come to mind as I reflect on this:
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin.
When we consider all Jesus endured for our sins and that God didn’t spare his own son for our lives, it does take your breath away. Yet time and again we forget, forsake and abandon Jesus. In our sinfulness, in our choices, even as we walk with him, we turn away from him. Even in this reality, there Jesus is, ready to bring us, his “lost sheep,” back into his fold, to wipe us clean, to make us new again. The words of Amazing Grace certainly ring true in this instance. Only by God’s grace, we are redeemed; not by what we have or could ever do to earn it. On that Easter morning, when the stone is rolled away and we know our Christ is risen, we will again be reminded that Jesus’ victory over the grave was won for all of us in his care.
(Emily Pries is the executive secretary of Bishop Thomas Zinkula.)