This week’s gospel is a drama played out in multiple acts of betrayal against one grand, overarching act of love. It is a tragedy transformed into triumph by the greatest curtain call that ever was or ever will be. It is Matthew’s epic account of the Passion of Jesus in which we are not just spectators, but participants and beneficiaries of the greatest story ever told.
The crucifixion of Jesus is no surprise turn of events in the narrative we have been following since the Nativity. Jesus has known where his life was heading and he has freely shared his insight with us. Now the time has come for him to face up to the forces of evil that have stalked him for so long… plotting his destruction in response to his message of love.
Does he fight or does he flee? He has run before, why not now? He will not fight and he will not run, because his time has come. This is why he came. He has preached the new covenant based on love of God and neighbor. He has demonstrated his power over evil, over illness, over death. Now is the time to show he is not just about inspiring words or even signs and wonders. Now is the time for Jesus to take our betrayals to the cross, to banish sin and give us eternal life.
He will not simply lay down his life. It will be torn from him in the most fiendish form his enemies can conceive. But even more painful that the nails, the lash and the thorns will be the path of betrayal he must travel to the cross. In Gethsemane, Jesus asks his apostles to stay and watch with him while he prays. They respond by snoring through his agony of anticipation. Theirs is a betrayal of indifference followed by a betrayal of cowardice in their flight from Jesus when he is arrested. Judas, whose name has become synonymous with betrayal, adds a flourish to his treachery by betraying Jesus with a kiss. Then in total contempt for Christ’s message of divine mercy, he throws away God’s gift of life on a homemade gallows.
Peter is a multiple betrayer on that night. Three times he denies Christ. But, unlike Judas, in his despair Peter reaches out for forgiveness and God hears him. Then there is the fickle mob of casual betrayers. A week ago they greeted Jesus with: Hosanna. Now their cry is: Crucify him. They’re shallow. They’re erratic. They’re bored and easily distracted. They want to be with the in-crowd. They’ll only root for the winning team. Sound familiar?
Most of the world’s sins are banal acts or slothful omissions. They are the work of casual betrayers, like us. You know how it is: We don’t set out to do evil. We probably even have a high opinion of ourselves. But some sins look just too good to pass up. Besides, it can really be a lot of trouble doing the right thing all the time. What difference does it make? That Sunday school stuff is alright for kids, but business is business. Who could blame us for an office flirtation that simply gets out of hand? Nobody knows; so nobody’s hurt. Sure, everybody cheats on their taxes. Just don’t get caught. Did you hear what she said to me? No wonder I lost it. Just a few bruises, she’ll be OK. So I pop a few pills and then I pop some more; you would too, if you had my problems. All this stuff about the poor is really overdone. They don’t have it so bad. What am I supposed to do about it?
And on and on… our betrayals just keep piling up. But Jesus takes them all… your sins and mine… every one of them go with him to the cross. Then our betrayals get nailed right onto that cross. They are raised up to die with him and get thrown into the tomb. It turns out that all along we’ve had a starring role in the Passion of Jesus. You might say that it’s always been all about us. Our sins brought him to the cross. But it doesn’t end there. By God’s saving grace, this play has the happiest ending of all time. In Christ our sins are dead and buried… while the risen Jesus takes a miraculous Easter curtain call. And from the cross and from the tomb, we arise with him… triumphant to the ovation of eternal life.
Thank you, Jesus. By your life, death and Resurrection, you have set us free.