Lord Jesus, I want to be like you, not them, when I face the cross.
As I hear the story of you and your friends on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year A, I am struck by the weakness they show and the clear example you give for me to imitate.
But I am afraid that without your grace, without uniting with you in the Eucharist, I will be exactly like them.
I see myself in the crowds hailing you; but I want to be like you, in your humility, on a donkey.
The voices are crying out, delighted by you, but also delighted by the emotion and energy all around them. They know their faith well. They call you “Son of David,” the fulfillment of his covenant. They shout out “Hosanna!” acknowledging you as the Lord. They shake up the whole city, and get everyone asking who you are — and they answer. “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.” Not “a” prophet — “the” prophet.
They loved you, they welcomed you, and they celebrated you. Not only that, they proclaimed you boldly.
So where were they the next day? Where was their faith when everything was going against you? Some say these are the same people who cried “Crucify him!” But I bet they weren’t. I bet they were like me: I talk about you enthusiastically with my like-minded friends, but can’t bring myself to mention you to those who don’t know you or who misunderstand you.
I also see myself in the Upper Room when you say, “One of you will betray me.”
They all say “Surely, it is not I.” They were blinded by pride. They lacked self-reflection. I’m not like that. I won’t abandon you. I won’t betray you. I’m no Judas. I won’t sell you for money. There’s no way it’s me.
But, wait — what about money? “They paid [Judas] thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.”
The one who betrayed you was interested in money. Am I like that? I admit it: I have preferred money for me over money for the poor. That’s bad. I’ll confess it. But Judas did more than that, surely?
He did. And, now that I think of it, maybe I have too? It wasn’t thirty pieces of silver I got to hand you over. It was a little here, a lot there. Did I have you in mind when I chose my career? Sure. But did I follow through, allowing my faith to affect how I did my work, how I responded to company decisions, how I treated people in the workplace? Did I call out the bad, even if it made my boss upset, and insist on the good, even if it made me stand out? Does my life at work proclaim you?
Apart from work, though: Did I point my life at you as its true purpose and end, or did money take your place? Did I choose a house that was good enough but not too grand; a car that was reliable enough, but didn’t drain my finances for superficial thrills; a lifestyle that allowed me to give sacrificially and educate my children in the faith?
Has my lifelong ambition been friendship with you, or friendship with the world? Treasure in heaven, or treasure on earth? Did I choose you, or thirty pieces of silver?
Judas said “Surely it is not I,” even as the silver sat in his purse.
Jesus, you warned him. You said, “Woe to that man by whom the son of man is betrayed.” He should have begged forgiveness when he heard that. Instead he betrayed you by paying “lip service.” Literally. He kissed you.
Lord, I beg for forgiveness. I don’t want to speak your name with my lips but not with my life. I don’t want to receive you in my mouth but not my heart.
Help me see that the rewards I gain in life will be bitter if they cost me your love. Judas flung his money away, saying “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” The money I make at the expense of you and at the expense of others will turn bitter too. I will come to hate it in the end.
But actually, Jesus, I am probably being too harsh. I’ve been doing pretty good. I’ve been making strides.
My faith is at a high. I’m not perfect, but I’m committed. Was I a Judas? If so, I’m not anymore. I’ve been studying. I’ve been praying. I am inspired by the martyrs. I am committed to the cause. I am foursquare against the bad guys, 110% on your side.
And it’s a good thing I am, too, because things are getting rougher in the United States. They’re attacking churches. The dark tide is rising. Now is the time for true Catholics to stand up, and I am a true Catholic. You can count on me. I will stand with you. I will march by your side to the end.
Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you!
And that, of course, is exactly what Peter says in the Gospel, for much the same reasons I say it. He followed it up the way I do, too:
- When you asked Peter for prayer, he slept instead. Which, I hate to say it, is what I have been doing instead of the prayer time I promised you at that retreat.
- He took up his sword and struck out clumsily at others in the garden. And I too tend to unthinkingly lash out and alienate people when you clearly want my docility and love.
- Then a servant challenged Peter and he denied even knowing you — like I do when I am with anyone but my Catholic circle of friends.
Peter said he would die for you, but he couldn’t even stay awake for you when he was sleepy, stay calm for you when he was angry, or speak up for you when he was embarrassed. And, God help me, neither can I, again and again.
Peter shouldn’t have said, “I will die for you.” He should have said, “O Lord, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me.”
That is what you prayed from the cross, when you started today’s Psalm, which begins: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
When faced with the cross, your apostles chose comfort over pain and honor over shame. But in Isaiah, you said: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”
The apostles didn’t turn to the Father for grace. But you did. You said: “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”
Lord, when the cross comes to me, let me be like you, not like them. Or, maybe I should rephrase that …
Let me choose your humility and obedience. Paul sums you up this way: Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but took the form of a slave and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And your humility and obedience changed your apostles.
- You took the form of bread to strengthen them; and they learned to stop insisting they were strong enough without you.
- You died for the Father’s will; and they learned to sacrifice everything, one thing at a time, for you.
- You endured getting slapped, spit on, and rejected by your friends; they did that too, in the end.
So let me change my prayer. You forgave the apostles, and they lived for you, sacrificed for you, died for you. When the cross comes, help me be like you — and help me be like them; help me repent like them, and unite with you like them.
Let me continue the project you began and that they built up, knowing that, truly, “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.”
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