Diocese of San Bernardino
The following are excerpts from a homily Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego gave during a Mass on Palm Sunday at St. Joseph Parish, Upland.
The Passion narrative today begins with something rather surprising. It begins with Judas’ betrayal. It not only begins with Judas’ betrayal but also recounts Peter’s denial, first with simple words and then with curses and outright denying he has ever met Jesus. Even more surprising is that we hear all the disciples abandoned him. So the crime from the Passion is not only with those who did not know Jesus, but also with the very disciples of Jesus then and now. No one can be excused.
The Gospel of today can focuses on two elements. One is Jesus, the center of the narration, and the other is in the sin of humanity. In order to recognize that sin affects us all, the narration begins with the sin of the disciples. The religious leaders are really the ones who condemned Jesus. The political leaders condemn Jesus. The teachers and scribes, who knew of the scriptures, who were specialists in knowing the Word of God and the law, condemned Jesus. The Romans, the ones who did not believe in the True God, represented here by Pilate and the centurions, condemn him. Pilate condemned him even though he knew Jesus was innocent. He washes his hands of him, but he cannot wash away the blood in his hands. He has condemned an innocent man. No one is excused.
The sin is not just for some people, but it belongs to all of us. Today the Lord has revealed to us the truth. This is the time for us to recognize that. The Holy Father has done so. In an early interview shortly after he was elected pope, they asked him, “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” He said that the best way to describe him was that he was a sinner that God had mercy upon. If the Holy Father has described himself as a sinner who the Lord has had mercy on, then no one else can say that sin does not touch them.
While sin is what brings Jesus to the cross, the central element of the Passion of Christ is Jesus himself. And how does Jesus appear? What does Jesus reveal to us? First that Jesus goes to the Cross voluntarily. He does not go because he is weak or because he is oblivious to what is about to happen? He knows will happen. He knows what is to come. This knowledge doesn’t leave him calm and numb to the pain that he is about to go through. The scriptures say he experienced a mortal sorrow or a sorrow even to death. Jesus is not someone who did not feel pain. Jesus wasn’t numb to the spitting and torturing. When he was in the praetorium and they stripped him, dressed him in red robes, placed a crown of thorns on his head, reed in his hand and began to make fun of him, Jesus was not immune to that.
The crucifixion was not something beautiful. It was an incredible torture. Jesus was not numb to the pain of the crucifixion. He felt alone and abandoned. “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” He was not only reciting a psalm, but communicating what he felt. We know that he died by surrendering his spirit to his father, but that does not nullify his experience, his pain and body and soul.
We ask: why did Jesus accept all of this? Nobody on Earth can claim that Jesus doesn’t know what is going on, because he has been there. There are people that are abandoned in our homes. Husbands and wives are abandoned. The elderly are abandoned. Youth of all ages are abandoned. People are unfairly imprisoned, not only because of the law but also because of ourselves. No one can say that Jesus doesn’t understand his or her own situation or that he is a stranger to suffering.
Many of us may have experienced a time when we felt that God has abandoned us. My God, my God, why have you abandoned me since I don’t feel your presence like I used to? I go to church and I don’t feel anything. I leave the same as when I first entered. I pray and I don’t know if I’m just talking to myself? I pray for my son or daughter who is following the wrong path and you don’t listen. Do you not care? My God, my God, why have you abandoned?
Jesus identifies with us, not because we deserve him, but because we need him. Jesus does not, throughout his entire ordeal, express feelings of enmity, condemnation or of wanting to take revenge. He goes to the cross out of love of us, for the love of those who tortured him and led him to his death. This is the messiah that God had promised us. This is Jesus, one who has the capacity to have infinite love for us. He accompanies us in our sadness, in our broken world without limit. That is why we believe in the ability to experience a renewal of the self, of the parish, of the diocese, of the Church and the entire world. The love of Jesus is infinite.
St. Paul in the letter to the Phillipians writes:
“…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
We are going to live this out as we enter into Holy Week. Jesus, we proclaim, did not finish on the Cross, but lives forever. He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth, savior of all mankind. He continues to live and intercede for us. And we experience his presence in this celebration of the Eucharist. Amen.