Reflection for Sunday – March 20, 2016 Palm Sunday
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2: 6-11; Luke 22: 14—23:56 Reflection by Cathy Kamp.
In Luke’s account of the Lord’s Passion, the prayer of Jesus is both a guide for us when we pray and a reminder of all that Jesus taught us about divine mercy. This moment of intense prayer follows the narrative of the Last Supper and Jesus’ intercession on behalf of Peter’s faith. It precedes Peter’s denial and Jesus’ ultimate indictment, torture and crucifixion. Without this moment of intense prayer, what comes before and what comes after would be missing a critical link to Jesus’ trust in the mercy of his Father.
The agony in the garden begins by reminding us that Jesus often went off to pray. “He went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.” Not only is Luke reminding us to pray often as Jesus did; he is presenting a scenario where we can all go along with Jesus. Compared to other accounts, Jesus does not select Peter, James and John; all are welcome to pray with Jesus.
Luke portrays a more sympathetic Jesus. The disciples are admonished only once for falling asleep and even then “he found them sleeping from grief” even though he had instructed them “to pray that you may not undergo the test.” It is not just Peter, James and John who might be challenged and even persecuted for their faith in Jesus, but all disciples then and now. Persecution of Christians is real in many parts of our world today, and many of us are challenged to live our faith in an increasingly secularized world. Imagine if we had to profess our faith under the threat of persecution. Yet, that is what Jesus asks very clearly.
How often do we pray as Jesus did, using only the first half of his appeal to the Father? Jesus begins: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me…” In so many circumstances we ask God to take the cups and crosses of our lives away from us—illness, financial hardship, troubled relationships, even death itself. But Jesus did not stop there, as we so often do. Jesus continues: “…still, not my will but yours be done.” Placing ourselves in the hands of our merciful Father is perhaps one of the most difficult things for us to do. Our world teaches us to be independent, and decisive. Jesus offered a model of obedience and acceptance in the face of suffering when the stakes were the highest, even death itself.
In my life, placing the outcome in God’s hands was the most difficult for me in the months leading up to my parents’ passing, one decade apart from each other. I could pray that God take from them the “cup” of cancer and the “cup” of congestive heart failure while knowing and accepting that it was God’s will to take them home to himself. Nonetheless, I couldn’t end the prayer without an add-on: But please do not let them suffer.
Even this Jesus does not ask. He accepts that he will endure the worst of human pain, humiliation and suffering. Not only does he accept it, but he continues to show divine mercy as the reality bears down on him. Seeming to give Judas one more chance, he asks: “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” When the disciples respond to Judas’ stunning betrayal with the violent act of cutting off a servant’s ear, Jesus stops them and heals the man! Only then does he address the crowd of priests, guards and elders who have come for him acknowledging that this is the inevitable “hour” for the “the power of darkness.”
It is as if Jesus is still consoling us despite his agony. Already he has nourished and strengthened his disciples with his Body and Blood, just as he does for us today in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. He does not ask for their prayers for his own suffering but instructs the disciples to pray for the grace of fortitude in their faith, a prayer we are wise to ask for ourselves. As the earth darkens, he does not respond with anger or avoidance. He continues his mission of mercy toward his betrayers and, in so doing, continues to teach us how we are to live in the world.
May our prayer today be that we can accept the crosses of our lives in prayerful serenity while never ceasing to show God’s mercy to all around us.