We have often heard the adage: “Good news, bad news – who knows!” The caution in this statement is about holding out until the end, when the final conclusion allows an informed assessment of whether the situation under consideration is, in fact, good or bad news.
Palm Sunday is the epitome of a good news/bad news story. We begin with Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem to jubilant chants of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (LK 19: 28-40) and end with the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus as Luke tells the story (LK 22:14-23:56). Admittedly there is some telescoping of the time frame as we know the incidents happened over several days rather than all at once, but it is nevertheless a stunning example of the vicissitudes of crowd mentality.
Reflecting on this Sunday’s readings one realizes that the need for the faithful to wait for “the rest of the story” is implicit at each step. Isaiah’s words (IS 50: 4-7) paint a fearful picture of what the servant suffers in trying to speak God’s word to the weary: beatings, plucking of his beard, buffets and spitting. The message to us, however, is in the last verse where the prophet witnesses to God’s faithfulness in all the violence he has endured. The Lord God is my help, he says, therefore I am not disgraced. I have set my face like flint, knowing I shall not be put to shame.
The refrain of the responsorial psalm (PS 22): My God, my God, why have you abandoned me could be interpreted as despair of the crucified Jesus. Not so! Jesus, who likely knew all 150 psalms by heart, knew the ending. Like Isaiah, he trusted that whatever happened, God was faithful and worthy of praise: I will proclaim your name to my brethren, the psalmist sings; in the midst of the assembly I will praise him. (vs.23)
Even as we focus on reciprocal fidelity as the linchpin of relationship between God and Jesus, we know that the suffering endured in the Paschal Mystery was monumental. From betrayal of friends to physical torture and death, Luke’s gospel reminds us that Jesus trusted God and poured himself out in love for our sake. It would behoove us to spend time with this text seeing anew each compassionate encounter on his path from the Last Supper to the cross.
Only the Letter to the Philippians speaks from a post-resurrection perspective today (PHIL 2:6-11). It is the willingness of Jesus to surrender everything that leads to his exaltation as Lord. But let us not be too hasty to reach the finish line. Let us rather take every step of this Holy Week with Jesus, trusting as he did that the Lord God is our help.