10th April 2022 – Palm Sunday, (Passion Sunday) Years A, B, C

10th April 2022 – Palm Sunday, (Passion Sunday) Years A, B, C

(1) Isaiah 50:4-7

The Suffering Servant will not be put to shame

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

Responsorial: from Psalm 22

R./: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me

All who see me scoff at me;
they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads:
He relied on the Lord; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, if he loves him. (R./)

Indeed, many dogs surround me,
a pack of evildoers closes in upon me;
they have pierced my hands and my feet;
I can count all my bones. (R./)

They divide my garments among them,
and for my vesture they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, be not far from me;
O my help, hasten to aid me. (R./)

I will proclaim your name to my brethren;
in the midst of the assembly I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him;
all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him;
revere him, all you descendants of Israel! (R./)

(2) Philippians 2:6-11

The self-emptying (kenosis) of God’s loving servant, to save his people

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death ” even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: Luke 22:14-23:56

or, shorter version: Luke 23:1-49

Luke’s edifying narrative, underlining the mercy and prayer of Jesus

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!”

Then they began to ask one another, which one of them it could be who would do this. A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”

He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough. He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.

When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” They kept heaping many other insults on him. When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” All of them asked, “Are you, then, the Son of God?” He said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!”

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.” When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer.

The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies. Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.” Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed.

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. As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.-

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the ays are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him.

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.


Success, after apparent disaster

Later this week is the anniversary of the martyrdom (March 24, 1980) of archbishop Oscar Romero. It reminds us that our Lord Jesus was not the first man to die for a cause, nor the last. He was not the first or the last innocent man to be put to death. He was not the only one ever crucified. There were on that same day two others. Even as regards physical pain it is at least possible that others have suffered as much. What then makes the passion so different? And it is undeniably different.

The gospel account is roughly about two newspaper columns long, and even though I’ve read it, or heard it read hundreds of times, it still affects me. I wonder why? I think the answer lies in the details ” the completely human and utterly shabby circumstances in which Christ died.

Take for example the behaviour of his friends. Was there ever such a complete let-down? Judas, one of the specially chosen twelve. One can feel the hurt, almost the unbelief in Christ’s gentle words, “Friend, why are you here? Judas would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’ One could almost stomach the betrayal of Judas had the other eleven remained faithful. But one short line tells their story “And they all forsook him and fled.” And Peter ” surely not Peter. Think of all those miracles Christ worked while Peter was by his side. He raised the dead child to life, set him walking on water, was transfigured before him. Only a few short hours be fore, Peter had boasted, “Even though all abandon you, I will follow you to prison and to death.” ” but at a distance, a safe distance. And when he was cornered a jibe or two from a servant girl looking for notice, Peter the Rock disintegrated. “He began to curse and to swear that he knew not the man.” That must really have hurt Jesus. “And Jesus turning looked at Peter and Peter went out and wept bitterly.” And these were his friends, his only friends. The people he lived with and loved. The people he showered his miracles on and shared his secrets with. And not one of them lifted a finger for him.

What has the Passion story to do with us? It is the story of our salvation. But it is more, much more. It is the story of our lives. There isn’t a part in the whole sordid script that we, you and I, wouldn’t play to perfection. Peter in his pride and Peter in his fall and, hopefully, Peter in his repentance too. We’d fit in perfectly with the disciples who fled at the first sign of danger, or with Caiaphas and the high priests, with their self-righteousness and eagerness to reform others while ignoring themselves, or with Pilate in his abuse of authority, or with the mob with its thirst for excitement and blood. And Judas? Let’s face it ” there’s a Judas in all of us. There are times and situations in all our lives when Jesus could easily say to us as he said to Judas, “Friend, why are you here?” The truth is, it was only his friends who could really have crucified him so.

Like us in all things but sin

“He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth” (Is 53:7). For the followers of Christ, this Isaiah text evokes a response deep down within us, seeing how they apply to God’s only beloved Son, and how he died for all of us. In the words of St Peter, “without having seen him you have come to believe in him, and so you are filled already with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described” (1 Pet 1:8). Without this sincere love of Christ, we are no true followers of his. We cannot say we fully love him, until we appreciate what he suffered for us.

Having just heard the Passion narrative there is no need to retrace in great detail the events there described. But we might reflect how Christ was no stranger to hardship, privation and suffering, long before that final day of his life. “Being in the form of God,” as St Paul says, from the moment he came on earth, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are (Phil 2:6f). He, the most high God, suffered the hardships of the poor, at times not even having a place to lay his head. He endured hunger and thirst, and after long days surrounded by crowds seeking a cure, he often spent whole nights at prayer in the hills. Despite his compassion for all who came to him, he met with hatred and rejection, in particular from Pharisees and priests, who planned to have him killed. How this rejection and hatred must have grieved him. King Lear knew “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is, to have a thankless child;” and how must Jesus have felt at being rejected by the people he had chosen, above all others.

The cruelly disfigured face was the face of the Son of God. The forehead streaming with blood, the hands and feet nailed to the Cross, the body lacerated with scourges, the side pierced with a lance, these were the forehead, the hands and feet, the sacred body, the side of the eternal Word, made visible in Jesus. Why such suffering? We can only say with Isaiah, “It was for our transgressions he was smitten, for our sins he was brought low. On him lay the punishment that brings us healing, through his wounds we are made whole” (Is 53:5ff). God, our Father, grant that your Son’s suffering for us may not be in vain.

The Greatest Week

Today we are beginning the best week in the whole liturgical year. Centuries ago it was called the ‘Great Week‘. Nowadays we Catholics call it ‘Holy Week‘. We follow Jesus every step of the way. We start with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, where he is welcomed, applauded and acclaimed, by a big crowd of followers. On Thursday we will join him at table and receive the gift of himself in bread and wine. After dining with him we will walk with him along the path that leads from the Upper Room to the Garden of Olives. There we will see him falling to the ground in fear and anxiety about the cruel death that awaits him. Friday will find us standing beside his mother at the foot of the cross, and feeling compassion for him in both his physical agony and his mental torment.

We will be feeling especially some of his sense of being alone and abandoned, betrayed and deserted, not only by friends and followers, but even by God. On Saturday we will be quiet and silent around his tomb, as we remember the injustice, hostility and cruelty, of all those evil men who murdered him. Then, late on Saturday, we will move from the darkness of our journey to the place of the brightly burning fire. There we will join the procession of the great Easter Candle, representing the risen Christ, as he lights up the darkness of our church and lives.

There and then, the pain and sadness of our journey with Jesus to Calvary, will give way to the hope and joy that comes with our awareness. Jesus Christ is not dead and gone. No, he is alive, strong and powerful, alive in himself, and alive in us. And so we will be hearing in our hearts those assuring words that Juliana of Norwich in her vision of Christ Crucified heard from his own lips: ‘All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.’


  1. Readings: 10 April 2022 – Palm Sunday


    Key message:
    Lord, let not my will, but yours be done!!

    The takeaway from the first reading:

    In the first reading, we listen to the words of our Lord Jesus, from the prophecy of Isaiah. “Morning by morning he wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious.”
    Our Lord Jesus is the teacher of all teachers. He is also taught by His Heavenly teacher. Every morning our Jesus was being taught. We see in the Holy Bible, how early morning He goes out to pray all by Himself. In spite of His enormous amount of work to be done just within a span of three years, He always set time aside for His prayers. Even though He was the Son of God, He fasted and prayed a lot. Prayer was the secret behind the success of His life. Even though our Lord Jesus Christ was the Son of Almighty God, He too required prayer.
    If we consider all the special people in the Holy Bible, our Lord Jesus Christ, Mother Mary, Saint Joseph, prophets like David, and the apostles in the New Testament, all of them were committed to their prayer life. Three years was sufficient enough for our Lord Jesus to accomplish all His duties because He was prayerful and obedient to God. Let us also fulfil all our duties in the world by committing the first part of our day to our Almighty Father and being obedient in our regular routines.

    The takeaway from the second reading:

    The Apostle Paul says: “Have the mind of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Our Lord Jesus though He was God, He became human and emptied Himself for us. His will was always to do the will of God. These were the thoughts of our Lord Jesus – ‘Always to do the will of God only’.
    We too should have the mindset to always do the will of God. Our Lord Jesus did not think about how He would look in front of others. He wanted to obey God only. He wanted to please God only. Hence, when He breathed His last, He was able to say, “It is finished”, meaning I have completed the task which my God has assigned to me.
    In the same way, our Lord God has assigned a job for each one of us. If we are carried away by what people think about us, then we will not be able to lead a fruitful life. Only if we train our minds to think about what God wants us to think and accomplish, can we complete all the tasks assigned to us. Finally, we can say along with our Lord Jesus, “It is finished.”

    The takeaway from the Gospel reading:

    Many of the pointers below have been referred to from the notes of St. Padre Pio.
    1. God anoints our times both with joy and sorrow. The triumphant entry of Jesus on a colt with shouts of praises “Hosannah Hosannah”. In the next few days, our Lord Jesus carried the cross with mocks and insults from the people. Our Lord Jesus was not carried away by shouts of “Hosanna” nor by the insults He received while carrying the cross. He knew everything was happening according to the will of Almighty God. So He never questioned “Why this glory?” or “Why this shame?” All our Lord Jesus said was, “Let your will be done, my God”.

    2. At the moment of the intense agony in the garden of Gethsemane, what does our Lord Jesus ask us to do? “Pray.”

    3. In the Garden, the Master went apart from His disciples, taking only three witnesses to His Agony-Peter, James, and John. Having seen Him transfigured on Mount Tabor, would they have the strength to recognize the Man-God in this being, broken by the agony of death?

    4. He could see Judas his beloved apostle who would sell him for a few pieces of silver . . . He was now on the way to Gethsemane to betray and deliver him to his enemies. And yet, a few hours before had he not nourished him with his Flesh and quenched his thirst with His own Blood? Prostrate before him he had washed his feet, pressed them to his heart, and kissed them with his lips. What had he not done to halt him on the brink of sacrilege or at least to bring him to repentance? But no, now he was hastening to his perdition . . . Jesus wept.

    5. He could foresee his Passion . . . The people, His well-loved chosen people, jeering, hissing and abusing Him, loudly demanding His death – and what a death. Death by crucifixion. He heard their false accusations; saw himself being flogged, crowned with thorns, derided, and hailed as the false king. He saw Himself constrained to bear the Cross to Calvary, succumbing beneath its weight, staggering, falling . . .
    And now He has reached Calvary, bereft of his garments, stretched on the Cross, nailed pitilessly to it, suspended between Heaven and earth. He hangs there panting from the nails in indescribable torture. My God! Those three long hours of agony will make him succumb to the jeers of the rage-intoxicated mob.
    He saw his throat and bowels devoured by burning thirst and the sponge soaked in vinegar and gall to quench His thirst.
    He saw His Father who abandoned Him and his Mother bowed down with grief.
    An ignominious death between two thieves. If one confessed and was saved, the other blasphemed and died unrepentantly.
    He saw Longinus approach and thrust the spear into his side.
    And at last, the extreme humiliation of body and soul left apart . . .
    All this, scene by scene, passed before his eyes, and terror seized his heart.
    Would he draw back?

    No, He could not draw back just because He loved you.

    6. He felt vividly in spirit all he had to suffer. For each sin, its individual pain. . .
    Yes, for each kind of our sin, He had paid it with an individual wound on His body. That was why the suffering on the cross, just like the other thieves, was not sufficient enough for our Lord Jesus to pay for our sins. He was lashed and scourged even before the cross was handed over to Him. The penance for all our sins had to be accommodated by His wounds.

    7. Jesus, how can we ask thee for strength when we see thee so weak and so beset?
    ‘Yes, I understand. Thou hast taken all our weaknesses upon thyself. To give us strength thou hast been the scapegoat.’

    8. I seem to hear the complaints of the Saviour: ‘If only man, for whom I suffer thus, would profit by the grace I procure for him by my great suffering! If only he recognizes at its true value the ‘price I pay to redeem him and to give him the life of the Son of God! Ah, this love that tears my heart more cruelly than my executioners will soon tear my flesh . . .’
    Can you recognize the price Our Lord Jesus has paid for your soul?

    9. Once more the Saviour’s prayer remained unanswered. He felt the throes of death. Painfully he rose to his feet in search of comfort. He felt his strength ebbing. He staggered towards his disciples. Once more he found them asleep. His sadness was even greater. He was content to wake them. Were they ashamed? Jesus said nothing. I can only see him incredibly sad. He kept to himself all the bitterness of this abandonment.
    Are we able to spend one hour daily or leave our longing for Jesus abandoned?

    10. Jesus returned to his place of prayer, exhausted and sore distressed. He fell to the ground rather than prostrate himself. He felt crushed by mortal fear and his prayers grew more fervid.
    ‘His Father averted his eyes, as though His Son were the most abject of men.’
    This was the most excruciating pain which our Lord Jesus felt. He was not able to take the separation from His Father. Because all the sins of the world had been emptied on Him, the sins separated Him from His Father.
    Was there anything worse our Lord Jesus can bear for us?

    11. To bear this terrible agony, he plunged himself in prayer. Prostrated before the Majesty of his Father, he said: ‘Father, let this chalice pass me by.’ It is as though he said: ‘Father, I desire thy glory. I want to see thy Justice done. I want reconciliation with mankind. But not at this price! That I, the essence of Sanctity, must thus be spattered with filth, oh no! not that! O Father, to whom all is possible, let this chalice pass me by and find another means of salvation in the unbounded treasure of thy Wisdom. But if thou art not willing, only as thy will is, not as mine is!’

    When our Lord Jesus felt it was too difficult to do, because it was the will of our Father, He did it.
    Can we do the will of our Almighty Father, just for the sake of our loving Lord Jesus?

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    Readings: 10 April 2022 – Palm Sunday


    ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Philippians 2:6-11)

    Paul seems here to be quoting a hymn, composed by some very early Christian literary and theological genius (apparently not by Paul himself). The hymn looks through and beyond the events described in today’s Gospel and brings out the deep meaning of the Passion.

    Like Adam, Jesus was in ‘the image and likeness of God’ (Genesis 1:26)—that seems to be the meaning of the phrase ‘in the form of God’ though theologians such as St Augustine took it to refer to Christ’s divine nature. But unlike Adam, Jesus did not clutch at his dignity but rather shed it. He was a social faller rather than a social climber. He did not hobnob with the great but made his life with nobodies. He did not dominate, but served.

    However, the Adam/Christ contrast does not explain the whole hymn. That phrase, ‘being born in human likeness’ refers to Christ’s pre-existence in some heavenly form. What the author had in mind can be described only by studying the religious imagination of the time, especially in Jewish texts referring to the Messiah. (The late Seán Freyne used to recommend John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: Messianism in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls, of which I see there is an enhanced second edition, Eerdmans, 2010.)

    Speculative theologians, aiming at a high note, talk about the divine nature emptying itself (kenosis) and there was quite a flurry in Buddhist-Christian dialogue a while back as people juggled with various theories of Buddhist emptiness and of Christian kenosis. Against such speculation, we need to rediscover the standpoint of the early hymnist, of Paul, and of the Passion narrative.

    It is first of all the story of a man, like us in all things but sin, who goes obediently unto death, becoming a martyr for the right as so many have before and since. For what exactly did he die? His championing of the little people brought him into a bitter clash with the forces of both church and state. That sort of imbroglio has often happened in history. But the hymnist does not only assure us that God vindicates his martyrs. He says that God raised Jesus up and gave him the name above every name (the name ‘Lord’?) Actually he uses the language of ‘exaltation’ rather than ‘resurrection,’ perhaps an indication that the hymn is early and non-Pauline. This unique destiny corresponds to Jesus’s own self-understanding: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28).

    Listening to the passion narrative every year, we attempt to go back to the beginning, to renew our perception and not rely only on tidy doctrinal overviews. We follow the tracks of a man, a courageous teacher, a victim of judicial murder, we retrace his steps again and again trying to get a grasp on him, and every time we find ourselves entangled in something that goes beyond the circumstances of one individual, something that opens onto a divine action, an event of salvation.

    Today we look on Christ in the lowliness of his suffering humanity. ‘I am a worm and no man,’ he cries (Ps 22:6). All the disease his healing hands touched, all the mental depression and anxiety his healing words lifted, all the hatred, strife, and injustice that dogged his steps even on the peaceful paths of Galilee, now converge in one brutal mass to crush him. ‘Like a sheep being led to the slaughter or a lamb that is silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7).

    This day the church tells again to the whole world the story of the Passion, which is always new, because always repeated in the passions of many innocent victims. We stand in silence, pondering the great saving event. Does the world stand in silence? No, but Christians everywhere do. They listen, they understand in their hearts, they bend their knees in adoration: ‘We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy Holy Cross thou hast redeemed the world.’ This prayer from the Stations of the Cross apparently comes from St Francis of Assisi, il Poverello, whose own life was a parable of kenosis. It joins together the two ends of the Christological spectrum: the human Jesus, who descended into the depths of our condition, never holding his distance or standing on his dignity, and the Christ of glory, used by God as an instrument of salvation. We can’t get our heads around this, but it can get its protective reach around us and our world.

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