He Shared In Our Suffering, And Carries Our Cross…Gospel Meditation for Palm Sunday

by Angela Lambert

April 9th, 2017; Palm Sunday

(For the longer version of today’s Gospel, click this link: Matthew 26:14-27:66)

Gospel of Matthew 27:11-54

Jesus stood before the governor, Pontius Pilate, who questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?” But he did not answer him one word, so that the governor was greatly amazed. Now on the occasion of the feast the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them, “Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas, or Jesus called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed him over. While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him.” The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus. The governor said to them in reply, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They answered, “Barabbas!”

Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” But he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” They only shouted the louder, “Let him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.” And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross.

And when they came to a place called Golgotha — which means Place of the Skull —, they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall. But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink. After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And they placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left. Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, and come down from the cross!” Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way.

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink. But the rest said, ‘Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.” But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”

Meditation Reflection:

Sin has a price.  During Holy Week, we contemplate Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation; the reason He became man and dwelt among us.  Jesus’ journey to the Cross began with His Incarnation in Mary’s womb.  Certainly, He ranks as the greatest Teacher in history, but He is much much more than that.  Divine Truth could not save us, without the gift of grace to transform us.  As St. Paul taught, the Mosaic Law condemns us.  Since we know the truth, we are all the guiltier when we transgress it.  The Mosaic Law provided the gift of wisdom, but it could not fortify a soul to follow it.  The thousands upon thousands of sacrificial lambs began the process of atonement for sin, but only the Lamb of God could justify us before the Lord.

Jesus knew every detail of His Passion before it occurred.  His human nature agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Eve of His crucifixion, even begging God that if it be His will, “to let this cup pass.”  Jesus willingly accepted His suffering and allowed Himself to be taken into custody, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crucified.  The Jews had tried to arrest Him several times before or stone Him for blasphemy, but to no avail.  They had no power of Jesus, only love and the cost for our redemption compelled Him forward.

Christ, though sinless Himself, entered into the messiness of our sinful human experience.  In doing so, He accomplished two things – first He redeemed us from our sins, and secondly, He drew near to comfort us in our struggles.  No one can say to the Lord, “you don’t understand, your God.”  Jesus experienced every humiliation that you and I suffer.  He grew up in poverty, His family had to flee persecution and live in exile for a period of time, the cultural elite looked down on Him and discounted His wisdom, He was often misunderstood – even by His closest companions, during His public ministry He had no home, some towns welcomed Him but others drove Him out of the city, on the hardest day of His life His friends fled and two betrayed Him, and at the end of His life it appeared that everything He had built was falling apart.  He experienced the fickle nature of human honors – being hailed as king as He entered Jerusalem with people waving palms shouting, “hosanna in the highest”, then the next day hearing the same crowd demand His execution shouting “crucify Him.”

When we cry out to God in our pain, weeping and begging as we ask “do you not see my suffering? Do you even care?”, we can be assured that He does, more than anyone else on this earth.  He became man so He could share in our suffering, carry our cross with us, and paying the price of our sins so we could live in the freedom of grace.  It may seem at times that God is silent, and we may struggle at His inaction.  Jesus experienced this too.  He asked in the Garden if there was another way.  On the Cross, He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me.”  Yet, He maintained complete confidence in God’s love and mercy.  He surrendered to God’s will at each step.  Even His final cry was one of hope.  He was quoting Psalm 22 which begins in anguish but ends in confidence that God will save. Jesus knew that His death would bring resurrection, for all men.  In the same way, we can be confident that we are never alone in our suffering, and with any death we experience, God will bring from it resurrection to new life.

Consider:

  • Consider each of Jesus’ sufferings.
    • His agony in the Garden – taking upon Himself the weight of our sins, fighting the human impulse to flee pain, the apostles asleep in His hour of need, the betrayal by Judas
    • His condemnation by the Sadducees and then by Pilate.  Standing silent without retort.
    • Hearing the crowd reject Him, even though He had done nothing but show them love.  Hearing them demand His crucifixion.  The vicious envy of the Jewish leaders and the shallowness of the people in the crowd who were so easily influenced.
    • The bloody scourging, which bruised and tore His flesh and resulted in losing a great deal of blood.
    • The mocking of the guards and the crown of thorns.  Choosing to endure rather than to argue back or overpower them.
    • Carrying the heavy cross, after a sleepless night and so much blood loss.  Fighting the weakness of His body with each step, and the shock of pain with each fall under its weight.  The chaos of the crowds pressing in on Him.
    • The humiliation of being stripped of His clothes.
    • The brutal crucifixion.
  • Consider the cost of your sins.  In what ways do others pay a price for your sin?  Are there persons particularly affected by your impatience, envy, pride, competitiveness, desire for attention, gossip, or other shortcomings?
  • In what ways do you pay a price for the sins of others?  How can imitating Christ’s example of forgiveness lift someone up with whom you struggle?
  • Consider your darkest moments and your deepest pain.  Reflect on how Christ has shared that same experience and suffered the same emotions – anxiety, humiliation, rejection, loss.
  • Consider the immense, unconditional love that Christ has for you.  Consider the lengths to which He willingly went, to protect and save you – to give you life and joy to the fullest.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, ask Christ to show you someone who is suffering.  Comfort that person in some way, so as to offer comfort to Christ in His sufferings.

Related Posts:

The Easter Triduum…Entering the Mystery

Receiving Christ’s Gift Graciously…Gospel Meditation for Palm Sunday (2016)

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

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Following Christ At All Costs

by Angela Lambert
INDIA - OCTOBER 01:  Mother Teresa and the poor in Calcutta, India in October, 1979.  (Photo by Jean-Claude FRANCOLON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

INDIA – OCTOBER 01: Mother Teresa and the poor in Calcutta, India in October, 1979. (Photo by Jean-Claude FRANCOLON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

September 4th, 2016; 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 14:25-33 NAB

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

 Meditation Reflection:

How can Christ, whose new commandment to us was to “love one another as I have loved you” simultaneously ask that we hate our family members?  As we celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa, we can look to her example to illuminate this paradox. Jesus’ challenge that “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” proved a difficult task and one that required great love, detachment, and grace for Mother Teresa who left her home, her family, and even her beloved convent to serve the poorest of the poor on the streets in India.  Jesus rightly warns to count the cost before we set out on a project lest we find ourselves giving up midway.  Discipleship calls for a total gift of self, in response to the Lord who made the ultimate gift of self for us through His Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection.

In a perfect world, or at least in heaven, loves do not compete with one another and we aren’t painfully pulled in opposing directions.  In our current fallen state however, we come to crossroads where we must choose between two loves.  It’s one thing to forsake the love of a material good or a sinful habit, but the hardest love to forsake is that of someone with whom we have an intimate relationship who refuses to share us with Christ and gives us an ultimatum.

This ultimatum may not sound as direct as “it’s me or Christ!” but it will likely pit some aspect of following Christ against something the person wants of you.  Following Christ results in a life of sacrifice that’s counter-cultural.  Authentic Christians don’t blend in and that bothers people who don’t want to stir the waters. Living your faith, even quietly, can prick the conscience of another and result in lashing out to ease his or her own angst.  Similar to Jesus, Christians offer love unconditionally to others.  Unfortunately, the same is not always true on the other end and the painful choice between following Christ or making the person you care about happy must be made.

This choice takes as many forms as there are relationships.  For a teen it can be a couple breaking up because one chooses purity over promiscuity or being left out of social gatherings because of a refusal to drink.  For a young adult it can be a person choosing the religious life despite the discouragement of parents, or moving away from family and friends for a service they are called to by Christ. For parents it can mean getting the silent treatment from a child because you refuse to condone their wrong behavior.  For a spouse it can mean suffering the anger of the other sometimes even divorce because one refuses to compromise living out his or her faith to appease the other’s sin.  No one wants a rift in their family- whether between parents, children, or spouses.  At the same time not everything is in our control except our own decision to follow the Lord.   Navigating these situations can be confusing and spiritual direction should be sought to sort out how to authentically love in particular situations.

Mother Teresa desired to follow Christ and to give her whole life in love to Him.  First it meant leaving her family to join the Sisters of Loreto as a nun and serve in India as a teacher.  Next, she received her “call within a call” to go out into the streets and serve the poorest of the poor.  She was happy as a nun and asked Jesus if she could just serve Him more devoutly in the way she already was.  Each time however He repeated His request for her to satiate His thirst for souls by ministering to the poor and destitute.  He would ask her each time, “Wouldst thou refuse Me?”

Mother Teresa felt torn between two loves.  Her love for the other sisters, her students, and her life in the convent was certainly a noble love, but discipleship called her to follow Christ to a place that meant she would have to choose between the two.  Ultimately, Mother Teresa could not surrender her love for Jesus to anything else and so she gave up and gave in to the Lord.  As she followed Christ, Mother Teresa surrendered everything to Him – material goods, physical comforts, family, and even the convent.  She went into the most destitute streets with nothing but a sari and a passion for Jesus.

Mother Teresa did not want to have come so far only to turn back.  She had made a choice for Christ, to be a disciple, whatever may be.  Hopefully our discipleship will bring greater peace to our families and relationships and maybe our sacrifices will not be as large as Mother Teresa’s.  Only Christ knows the crosses we will have to carry but He asks that we be ready to face whatever may come with single minded devotion, lest we come so far only to turn back.

Contrary to cultural demands, Christians cannot compartmentalize their faith.  We are followers of Christ at church, at home, at work, when alone, or when with friends.  We have to be prepared that some people, even some we for whom we care deeply, may not tolerate our discipleship and choose to leave us.  In these instances, we can look to Christ for the grace and grit to carry our cross, a cross which He promises will end in a resurrection.

This Sunday, may we count the cost and, with the grace of Christ, decide to follow Him to the end.  The joy of Mother Teresa, and the light of love and mercy her life became, serves as a witness for us of the glorious destination of discipleship – a project worth completing!

Consider:

  • Are you a disciple of Christ?  If the answer is yes, what moves you to love Him and to follow Him? If the answer is no or not yet, what attracts you about Christ or piques your curiosity?
  • In what ways has discipleship caused you to live counter-culturally? Has it strained any of your relationships?
  • How has carrying your cross produced resurrections and blessings in your life? What have been some of the fruits of your discipleship?
  • What cross are you carrying right now? In what way does it resemble Jesus’ cross? How does it bring you closer to Him as you share in His experience?
  • It feels good to accomplish something hard that required grit and perseverance. Consider how it will feel to “finish the race” as St. Paul says, and to have followed Christ (with the help of His grace) to the end.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Learn more about Mother Teresa or read a collection of her writings or quotations.
  • If you feel tension between following Christ and appeasing someone you love, seek spiritual direction this week from your priest or a wise and holy person you know. Reach out in person, by phone, or email.
  • Pray an Act Of Consecration to Jesus each day this week.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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