Joy of the Gospel

Passion of the Lord Protagonists under the cross

Palm Sunday Year A

The Palm Sunday liturgy has two purposes: to remind us of Jesus’ joyful entry into Jerusalem and to introduce us to Holy Week by reading the entire story of the Passion. The first thing to note is that during the passion Jesus speaks little. He has already said all he had to say, now he can be silent. However, despite this silence, the passion is eloquent, it speaks for itself. It reveals the deepest traits of Jesus, those traits that manifested themselves throughout his life, which now become clearer: innocence, unconditional obedience to the Father, solidarity with sinners, unconditional abandonment to love.

The second thing to note is the solitude of Jesus: passers-by, the high priests, the two crucified with him who they find themselves next to each other, and no disciple is close to them: a solitude so profound that it becomes a prayer: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (27:46). We encounter the full humanity of Jesus, who did not flee from our anxieties, but in a certain sense summed them all up.

And yet Jesus is not alone. The evangelist disseminated various references to the ancient scriptures in the story (cf. Ps 22, Ps 69 and Is 53), passages that recount the experience of the righteous and the prophets: men denied, mocked and placed on the side of injustice. Then Jesus is not alone: he is part of a story, in the company of all the righteous and all the prophets. If one looks at the cross, one understands that at times God is a silent lover, almost at a distance, an experience that all the great men of God have had.

Jesus dies alone, but as soon as he dies everything turns upside down, God does not abandon his Messiah. The veil of the temple that is torn from top to bottom is a symbol: the temple of Jerusalem is finished (Jesus was therefore right), a new era is beginning. And a pagan, seeing him die, recognizes in him the Son of God. The story of Jesus is therefore not over, but begins again.

Finally, a further indication: the account of Jesus’ passion must not be listened to as spectators who witness, albeit with emotion, a drama in which others are the protagonists. Instead, we must consider ourselves protagonists; we are among the characters. But what is our role?

There are the authorities: they have decided to eliminate Jesus and are only looking for a reasonable pretext to condemn him. At the trial they were looking for false testimony. They convict him innocent.
There is Pilate. He presents himself with a claim to objectivity, he judges and recognizes the innocence of Jesus. But his objectivity has a limit: he is not willing to compromise himself. He is objective until his life comes into play. His love for the truth does not reach the point of self-giving. He prefers reasons of state and his own salvation, and abandons Jesus to his destiny.

There is the crowd. They have sympathy for Jesus but they are perpetually undecided. And, at the end, the crowd lets itself be convinced: they prefers Barabbas.

There are the disciples. While Jesus lives his drama, they sleep. And then they disappear completely from the scene (only Peter is mentioned, who followed him “at a distance” and who then denies him): we only find them again at the resurrection. The verbs that the Gospel uses to describe their behavior during passion are very significant and make us reflect: betray, sleep, abandon, deny, and observe from a distance.

So here are the characters. Certainly they are historical characters, but at the same time they are typical characters, points of reference that are still current. In which of them do we recognize ourselves?