Beware the ides of March.” I could not help recalling this line from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” as I considered the readings for today—the opening Gospel for the blessing of the palms and, a few minutes later, the account of the trial, passion and death of Christ.
One could not help but think, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”
Brutus, a close friend and ally of Caesar, utters this line after a soothsayer in the crowd warns Caesar about the ides of March, i.e., the 15th of March. Not hearing the warning clearly, Caesar inquires and Brutus repeats the warning to Caesar. Irony of ironies, Brutus would be among the conspirators to assassinate Caesar on the ides of March.
From this personal, individual dynamics, we see a communal or social parallel in the crowds that welcomed Christ as he entered Jerusalem. Presumably, from these crowds would come, days later, some in the mob who shouted to Pilate, “Let him be crucified!”
The crowds, clearly intense in both situations, responded to different stimuli. Their cheers expressed their longing for the Messiah. The original meaning of “hosanna” was “an oppressed people’s cry to their savior and their king.”
Christ definitively spelled out his Messianic mission and Kingship, or, in the words of William Barclay, his courage, claim and appeal; his courage to come face to face with the religious authorities; his claim to be the Messiah from God; and his appeal to establish a Kingdom of love in the hearts of men and women.
This was His truth that appealed to the longings and hopes of the crowd, but placed Him on a tragic collision course with the religious authorities, who succeeded in convincing the crowds to turn into a mob, shifting from “hosanna” to “crucify him.”
Season of grace
As we enter the sacred and great season of grace, Holy Week, I invite you to reflect, deep in our heart and soul, on the truth that we believe in and live by. There is one principle I will propose as guide for our Holy Week reflections; it comes from Fr. Hans Kung, SJ, who wrote that while we do not plan to suffer, we will inevitably suffer for what we believe in.
In today’s readings, Christ clearly understood this. He knew, believed in and lived His truth of being the “beloved son in whom the Father is well pleased.”
The first reading from Isaiah prophesying the fate of the suffering servant gives us an insight into Christ’s steely determination to fulfill His mission.
The responsorial psalm brings us to the core of Christ’s struggle to hold on to His truth even as he endures human pain, made more agonizing by the mockery of others. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” was not so much an expression of doubt, but a final expression of His struggle—the human suffering for what He believed in or who He believed in, His Father—before He lovingly surrendered to His Father’s will, in loving obedience: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. It is finished.”
The ancient hymn from Paul’s letter to the Philippians in the second reading reminds us of the metaphysical reality of Christ’s truth—“though He was in the form of God… He emptied himself (of his divinity)… He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted Him…”
In the context of Holy Week, this ancient hymn is fulfilled in the suffering, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
What is the truth we believe in? Do we live by it? Are we willing to face the consequences of this truth, even to suffer for it?
Holy Week is a good time to reflect on and pray over these points. What is our truth? How have we fared the past year? And it will be helpful to do an examination of our journey the past year using the three personas of the crowd/mob, religious authorities and Christ from these Sunday’s readings as reference points.
How much of the religious authorities became operative in us? Threatened by the truth of Christ, they plotted, manipulated and dug deeper into their self-righteous dogmatism and legalism. Is there a moment when we were like them, or when we rationalized and believed our “press releases?”
What were our crowd and mob moments? Here, I could not help but think of what people said almost eight years ago when there was renewed hope for a better life for the Filipino as we prepared for the 2010 elections.
Many then said that, for the ordinary Filipino, “pwedeng mangarap ulit.” Yet, now, our “numbed” hope and belief in dreams accept the violence and death in our communities.
I pass no judgment on this, only questions to understand. Why did this happen? What happened in the heart and soul of the “crowd” that turned it into a “mob,” to the hopes and dreams in us that appear to have settled for survival at all costs? No judgement, only questions so that we may understand.
The truth of Christ, His person and His mission, is the final reference point or our Holy Week examination of our journey. The liturgy of the Great Easter Triduum gives us a beautiful framework, both in form and content, to reflect on and pray.
In reflecting and praying on Christ’s truth, I refer back to Father Kung, who said we will suffer for what we believe in. I add what Fr. Benny Calpotura, SJ, made us understand and realize: that our truth we can only root, ground and center in Christ, in God His Father, because theirs is the truth that is eternal and unchanging; what sets us free to love and to serve them and others.
Our examination of our journey can lead us to assess where we lie in the spectrum. On the one hand, Christ can turn to us and tell us, in the final words of Julius Caesar to Brutus, when he was assassinated: “Et tu, Brute? (You, too, Brutus?)”
On the other hand, Christ can turn to us and tell us his words to the good thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” —CONTRIBUTED