PALM SUNDAY – C — 2010
Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56
Each of the Gospel writers has a unique perspective on Jesus and it is this light that colors the way they portray Jesus and his life and ministry on earth. Each chooses to tell certain stories, relate certain events and quote certain words, while at the same time refraining from other stories, words and events. This is the year of Saint Luke and the portrait he paints of Jesus is consistent throughout his Gospel. His Gospel has been called the Gospel of mercy. Why? Because we find in it a perfect description of the infinite love of God offered most especially to the poor, the weak, the broken, the disenfranchised. We find this theme not only in the description of Jesus earthly ministry, but in the passion narrative as well, the story we have just heard and experienced in today’s proclamation. Thus Luke shies away from those elements that highlight the sorrows and pains of Jesus, and keeps the focus on the manifestation of the love of God for each of us, a love that is forgiving of myriad faults and wrong choices. As Fr Orsy loves to say: ‘More on these unique differences later.’
There are, of course, many things that all of the evangelists mention in their narratives and I would like to zero in on one of them and to stay with this theme throughout Holy Week. Those of you who were here last year for our celebrations might remember that I chose to look at each of our liturgies, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Paschal Vigil under the lens of the marian antiphon we sing at Vespers each day during Lent. We interpreted the great mysteries through the optic of the “wounds of Christ, the well-spring of salvation.” This year I was intrigued by a Greek word as I pondered the Gospel of Mark in my lectio and found that it is used throughout the New Testament. It is the word: “paradidomi.” It is translated by many different English words according to the context. This is all well and good, but it also means that we never get the sense we are dealing with the same word when we read the Bible in translation. And so we lose some of the nuances and riches of the meaning of the New Testament writers.
What does “paradidomi” mean? Its primary definition is to hand over. Originally it was in the context of education, a teacher handing over a lesson or study project to his student or disciple. From this we get our word ‘tradition,’ that which is handed on. The word gradually became associated with other forms of handing on or handing over and that is how the New Testament enriched our understanding both of this word and of the Paschal Mystery.
It is amazing to see in how many different contexts our word is used, depending on who is the actor, what is the content, and to whom it is given. I think our word offers us a unique way of entering into the fullness of the mystery we are celebrating this week.
Who is the “who” who hands over? Sometimes it is us, sometimes it is Jesus, sometimes it is the Father. What is handed over? It is always Jesus. And to whom is Jesus handed over? Sometimes to us, sometimes to his enemies, sometimes to the Father. Can you catch a glimpse of why I was so intrigued by this word and wanted to try to understand it more fully?
“Paradidomi” occurs four times in the Gospel we have just heard – but it is never translated as handed over. But that is the way we will translate it, so as to get the full import of its meaning. The first three times it is used to refer to Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus. At the Last Supper we heard Jesus say: “But the hand of the one who is going to hand me over is with me on the table.” “The Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is handed over.” And in the Garden Jesus utters those plaintive words: “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are handing over the Son of Man?” And finally, at the trial before Pilate, when the people cry for Jesus‘ blood, our text says: “So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.”
Jesus is handed over to those who will kill him, and he is handed over by us. Yes, it was through the greed of the apostle Judas that it was done, it was through the weakness and spineless backbone of Pilate, it was through the envy of the religious leaders of his day – but let the one among us who is without sin cast the first stone. The Scriptures are clear: it was our sins that handed Jesus over to his enemies. “He was handed over to death for and by our sins,” in the words of Saint Paul.
There is no substitute in the Christian life for a deep and humble acknowledgement that we have betrayed Jesus, that we have handed him over to the cruel suffering and death which he endured. Lord, have mercy, is a cry that will always be found on our lips. Let us enter this Great and Holy Week with such an attitude and disposition.
Yet at the same time let us remember the constant teaching of today’s Gospel, the Gospel of mercy. It is only in Luke that we have Jesus’ powerful words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” We know not what we do – but Jesus forgives us fully. And it is only in Luke that we find the even more poignant story of the thief who was crucified with Jesus and to whom tradition gives the name Dismas. Luke’s Gospel began in Nazareth where Jesus stood up in the synagogue and read the passage from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” and added like a clarion call: “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your presence.” And here at the end of the passion Jesus proclaims another today, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
It is right to beat our breasts during this Great Week, as Luke says the people did who saw Jesus die. For it was our sins which handed him over to this death. But let us also hear those great words of mercy to those who repent: “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”