The most significant question we face in life is mentioned in the Gospel at the start of this Mass: “When he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this?‘” Who is Jesus Christ and who are we? This Gospel is a mural of swirling identities and everyone is caught up in it somewhere. The first character identified in our Passion is described with great esteem: he is one of the Twelve…who was called Judas Iscariot. And just like some realistic Middle Eastern thriller our first scene exposes us to a secret meeting and a betrayal. Judas, one of Jesus’ closest friends, does not even demand a specific sum of money to hand over Jesus. Judas simply asks what they might be willing to give him in return, as if he was dispensing of a worthless slave. They’ll pay him $48. 60 or whatever they have lying around….thirty pieces of silver….nothing much either way. And in throwing Christ away for nothing they give evidence of the Second Reading that “though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave…”
Each of us is a sinner and so we all have a connection to Judas, and we quickly find ourselves in the Last Supper – saying “surely it is not I, Rabbi.” Wickedness is formless and therefore it is all the same, and we are all guilty and yet we all act so surprised. Later in the garden, perhaps like Peter we have followed Christ for a while and we say, “I will not deny you.” But then we are not able to keep our eyes open to watch and stay awake, because we are depending only on ourselves. Judas demonstrates that we can always sin more, and even disguise ourselves as pretending to love. “The man I shall kiss is the one.” Jesus replies, “Friend, do what you have come for” and reveals to us that even in the full scope of our betrayal – He loves us and is ready to serve.
His accusers: This man said, “I can destroy the temple of God and within three days rebuild it.” He’s a blasphemer. An entire Roman battalion considers Him someone to be mocked, spat on, robed in scorn, and crowned with blood. A notorious prisoner guilty of murder is preferable. On the Cross, those passing by saw Him as one to be reviled as they shook their heads. He is the King of Israel, let Him come down off the Cross now – that’ll be a real miracle. They and we like them, show why He came in the form of a slave – to be like us…for we were born slaves to sin….only if He had listened and come off the Cross to win our applause – He would only have kept us as slaves for Himself – for He would have stopped short of uniting Himself to our weakest point.
Christ remains fixed upon the Cross through the power of love. While sin disfigures our identity, Jesus is revealed more and more by His mercy. Are you the Son of God? You have said so. How does that work? Well, the high priest states this in question form, but it is the presence of the Evil Spirit, the spirit of the world that has put Christ on trial. Judas and Pilate ask similar statements and get similar answers from Christ. Think back to the temptation of Christ in the desert. It is insinuated by the devil that if Jesus is the Son of God He should make stones become bread or throw Himself off the parapet. At this point, Jesus has given ample evidence of who is His Father. When He addresses these three characters, He seems not to address them so much at all. Rather, He takes on the evil spirit, and He asserts that Satan himself has declared Christ as the Son of God in merely asking the question. For if Jesus was not the Son of God, He would merely be one more slavish child of the devil – and the devil would know Him as his own.
The crowd crying out to Jesus, Hosanna to the Son of David, had a good idea of who Jesus is. Hosanna is a word that can mean, “Save us.” We glorify God the Father by letting Him save us and humbling ourselves in imitation.
One of the strangest characters is mentioned only briefly. Before they end up having the Last Supper, Christ tells the disciples to “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.” It’s not clear why Christ does not give this man a name. In Mark, he is at least described as carrying some water. But, due to the fact that that he receives no significant description – he can represent all of us – that is, if we believe in Christ and allow His Last Supper and His Eucharist to be celebrated within the Temples of our bodies.
In this prayer of the Mass we are caught up with Jesus and all of these figures around the Christ as He tells us that He is food for us. He has transformed His death into a prayer for He loves us and wants us to share in His death so that He might share in ours and come through it. The one time Jesus is ever recorded singing anything in Scripture occurs as leaves the Upper Room and enters into this Passion – He sings a song of liberation. He sings with the joy, because He has come as a slave to lead us to freedom. Let us go welcome the Eucharist into ourselves and go out with Him to the Father: singing with Him always.