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By his passion and death, Jesus reveals his deep love for us

Joseph F. Naumann is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

The Passion narrative is the heart of the Gospel. Many biblical scholars maintain that the rest of the Gospels are just introductions to the Passion. Each year at Palm Sunday Mass, we read Matthew’s, Mark’s or Luke’s account of the Passion. On Good Friday, during the liturgical celebration of the Lord’s passion, we read St. John’s description of the events leading to the execution of Jesus on Calvary.  

On Palm Sunday this year, we read St. Mark’s version of the Passion. Mark began his narrative in Bethany with Jesus having dinner at the home of Simon the leper. During the dinner, a woman broke an expensive alabaster jar and proceeded to anoint the head of Jesus with a luxurious perfumed oil. The woman was criticized by some for this extravagant gesture. She was chastised for not selling the oil in order to give the money to the poor. Jesus, however, defended her. Our Lord acknowledged the great respect she had shown to him and cryptically suggested that she had anticipated his death and properly prepared his body for burial.

A few verses later, St. Mark described Jesus sending two of his disciples into Jerusalem to prepare an upper room for the annual celebration of the Passover meal. It is there that Jesus will eat his last supper with the apostles that was also the first Eucharist. 

In the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus told his followers that he is the bread of life that has come down from heaven. Our Lord identified this heavenly bread as his flesh and the wine as his blood. Many left Our Lord’s company because they were confused and offended by this talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

Jesus asked the apostles if they were going to abandon him as well. Peter replied: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6: 68-69). Peter and the other apostles could not have understood the meaning of what Jesus was saying, but still they trusted him, no matter how incredible his words might have seemed.

Once again, at the Last Supper, Jesus spoke of the bread he had blessed as his body and the wine he consecrated as his blood. On Good Friday, the apostles witnessed Our Lord’s flesh brutally torn and his blood shed.

It was only during the post-Easter eucharistic encounters with the risen Jesus that the meaning of the bread of life discourse became clear. The consecrated bread and wine becomes his Real Presence. Through the Eucharist, the paschal mystery — the dying and rising of Jesus — is made present to his disciples.

After the Last Supper, Jesus led his apostles to Gethsemane. Our Lord invited Peter, James and John to accompany him and to pray for him. Jesus prostrated himself and asked his Father to remove this cup — his impending passion and crucifixion. However, in the end, Our Lord surrendered himself to the Father’s will.

Meanwhile, Peter, James and John slept, unable to keep their eyes open to watch and pray for one hour. They were not spiritually equipped for what was about to happen. Except for John, the apostles abandoned Jesus once he was apprehended. Despite his assertion only a few verses before that he would die rather than betray Jesus, Peter denied even knowing Our Lord, when he was recognized as one of his disciples in the high priest’s courtyard.

Jesus was mocked, humiliated, beaten, scourged and eventually sentenced to a cruel and excruciatingly painful death because he refused to deny his identity as the beloved Son of God. The crowds who had hailed him as the Anointed of the Lord, the Messiah, now demanded his crucifixion.

Jesus endured excruciating physical pain during his passion and crucifixion. Our Lord also suffered profound emotional pain that resulted from his betrayal, his abandonment, his public humiliation, his being reviled and mocked by passersby, and even verbally abused by those crucified alongside of him.

St. Mark included in his passion a rather strange detail during the apprehension of Jesus: “Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked” (Mk 14: 51-52).

Some biblical scholars have suggested that this unidentified disciple, who fled the passion naked, is Mark, himself. However, more scholars believe that this mysterious disciple represents all of us. The white garment is reminiscent of our baptismal garment.

The entire Lenten season is a time of preparation to renew our baptismal promises on Easter. Hopefully, during the Lenten season, we have taken advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation. If not, it is not too late. Next Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday.

Confession provides us with the opportunity to surrender our sins — our betrayals, our abandonments of Jesus — to his merciful love. This sacrament of God’s mercy allows us to recover our baptismal beauty and dignity. Confession is a chance to cover the spiritual nakedness caused by our sin by retrieving our baptismal garment that was lost and soiled because of our fear of the cost to follow Jesus in this sin-fractured world.

We should read and pray over the Passion narratives, not only during Holy Week, but also throughout the year. They reveal to us the depth of God’s love for us and the wideness of his mercy. We should watch and pray with Jesus so that we do not give into spiritual drowsiness and abandon Our Lord when temptation presents itself.

In the passion and death of Jesus, God has revealed the depth of his love and mercy. What a gift is our Catholic faith! What a blessing to know this God, who does not love us because we are perfect, but who seeks us even in our weakness and poverty. What a miracle of grace! 

Jesus invites us to come to the Eucharist to touch the love and mercy unleashed on Calvary. During the dangers and struggles of our journey through this world, Our Lord offers us the opportunity to nourish ourselves with the bread of life. The alabaster jar filled with precious, perfumed oil, with which Our Lord desires for us to anoint him, is the gift of our time to encounter, reverence and adore him in the Eucharist.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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