(Procession: Luke 19:28-40; Mass: Isa 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56)
The Liturgy today leads us in procession into the heart of Holy Week, “An tSeachtain Mhór” (The Great Week), as it is known in Irish. With Jesus, we stand before the gates of Jerusalem, as he comes to claim his kingdom. In the Greco-Roman world a king or conqueror would ride up to the gates of a city on a war horse, enter it with his followers and be acclaimed as a liberator. (Putin’s understanding of his role in Ukraine is in this mode). There is a Jewish document of the time which speaks of the expected Messiah as a powerful ruler who would “destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth” (Psalms of Solomon, 17). Jesus is indeed the “one who comes” – a term for the coming Messiah – and the people acknowledge that, saying, “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is a quotation from the great Processional Psalm 118; Luke adds to it an echo of the words of the angels to the shepherds: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens” (see Luke 2:14). This is no conquering ruler, but one who speaks to the ordinary people like the shepherds, or who comes humbly riding on a donkey’s colt, the beast of burden of ordinary people. There is a tradition that a cross ever afterwards was on a donkey’s back in honour of its carrying the Messiah.
The readings of the Mass will show that this Messiah is not out to “destroy the nations” but to take the evil of such destruction on himself, in order to bring about the salvation of all. The Gospel of the Mass this year is the reading of the Passion according to Luke. For Luke, Jesus dies a prophet’s death; he started his ministry with a prophetic agenda (Lk 4:16-24) but, like many of the prophets before him, that ministry was rejected. In the Passion he continues his saving mission. Luke is at pains to point out that Jesus died as he lived. In his gospel Luke had emphasised the prayer of Jesus before all the important events of his life (e.g. before the choice of the Twelve; before giving the disciples the “Our Father”; before the Transfiguration). So, during the Passion he also portrays Jesus as praying: praying that Peter’s faith might not fail; praying for forgiveness for his executioners. He prays, too, that his Father’s will be done and gives himself into the hands of the Father at the end.
Likewise as Jesus lived compassionately in his lifetime through his healing and concern (Luke has Jesus tell his disciples to “be compassionate” as the Father, rather than Mathew’s “be perfect”), he continues that compassion in his Passion. He heals the ear of one of his enemies in the garden, he gives Peter a look of acceptance even after his betrayal; he cares for the women who have compassion on him and tells the Good Thief that he will be with him in Paradise.
This is surely the message we need to take from the Liturgy during Holy Week this year, in a time of such great tragedy for our world. Like the Jesus of Luke’s Passion, we ask the Spirit to enable us to be people of prayer and compassion so that, in good times and in bad, we may be there for those in need at this time and also be willing to show compassion to our abused world. As the prayer in one of the Lenten liturgies puts it:
Jesus, you are God’s own compassion. You are one with the victimized, the wounded, the weak, and the forgotten. May we abandon our struggles for power and learn to minister in a spirit of self- emptying. We ask this in your holy name for you are one with our Source and with the Spirit, for all ages. Amen. (1st Friday of Lent, People’s Companion to the Breviary).
Céline Mangan, O.P.