The yearly commemoration of the Holy Week, of the Passion and Death of Jesus leading to his Resurrection, starts with the commemoration of his pilgrim journey or entrance into Jerusalem.
According to Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, Part II), Jesus’ pilgrim journey from Galilee to Jerusalem is an “ascent” in both geographical and inner sense. It is an ascent in a literal and “geographical sense because the Sea of Galilee is situated about 690 feet below sea level, whereas Jerusalem is on average 2500 feet above.” It is also an inner spiritual ascent because “in the outward climb to Jerusalem,” Jesus’ ultimate goal is “his self-offering on the Cross.” Indeed, Jesus’ ascent to self-offering on the Mount of Golgotha, “an ascent towards loving to the point of death,” is “via the Cross.”
It is also in this ascent to his sacrifice on the Cross and in obedience to the Father’s will that God’s definitive revelation in Jesus is fulfilled. As Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. The One who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone because I always do what is pleasing to him.” (Jn. 8:28-29)
Jesus ascends to his self-offering on the Cross on a donkey, an animal of the poor, the lowly and the humble. He does not come on a horse, a symbol of might and power. Although he is coming as a king, as exemplified by the spreading out of garments that is reminiscent of Israelite kingship, his is a different kind of kingship. Pope Benedict XVI writes: “He is a king who destroys the weapons of war, a king of peace and a king of simplicity, a king of the poor.”
With branches from the trees, the people cry out: “Hosanna!” Through this Hosanna acclamation, disciples and the other pilgrims to Jerusalem express their hope for the coming of the Messiah and for the reestablishment of the David’s kingship and, therefore, of God’s kingship over Israel.
Indeed, Jesus is the Awaited Messiah, but he is not a political and worldly Messiah. It is precisely in the face of his passion in the hands of his enemies and of his death on the Cross that Jesus shows his being a Messiah. Jesus is the Crucified Messiah. He saves by being determinedly committed to the Father’s will even to the point of betrayal and death in the hands of men. Only in the shameful and baffling powerlessness of the Cross can Jesus demonstrate that authority that ultimately saves, forgives and rehabilitates. Jesus defines what sort of Messiah he really is on the Cross and not on a golden throne surrounded by power, might and pomp. The true Messiah is one who is crucified, who dies and who humbly and lovingly gives his all until there is nothing more to give. The true Messiah is one who suffers not only for us but also with us and in us.
But the week of the commemoration of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus is called Holy Week, not so much because of the passion and death of Jesus. It is not his passion and death per se that make Jesus’ passion and death holy but the love with which these are embraced. The passion and death of Jesus are a sign of love. They are the greatest expression of the Father’s love for us in and through Jesus His beloved Son. These are the culmination of a life lived in love – the love of God and His kingdom and of others. Jesus is one who walks his talk. His central message, the Kingdom of God, has something to do with God’s loving presence and action in our lives and history and this gets a most definitive seal of expression with the offering of Jesus’s life on the Cross.
While the passion and death of Jesus are a sign of love, they are also an invitation to love in a sacrificial and sacrificing manner. True love cannot but be sacrificial and sacrificing. To love is to be ready to offer oneself for the beloved even if this will involve a lot of sacrifices and, possibly, death. The ultimate measure of love is how much you are ready to suffer, to make sacrifices and to offer your life for the other.
Myron J. Taylor, following the insights of German theologians Jurgen Moltmann and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, says: “Because God cares—because God loves—He suffers… If God loves, then God suffers. To love is to be vulnerable — to be vulnerable means to be open to the hurts and risks that come with freedom.”
More about Fr. Robert and his reflections.