Acceptance of the Father's Will
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As the time for Passover drew near, Jesus came to Jerusalem. At this time of year, thousands of Jews were visiting the holy city. Word had spread that Jesus was coming. The people gathered in great excitement. They had heard how Jesus brought Lazarus back to life only a few days before. As Jesus rose into the city, the crowd shouted joyfully, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!" They waved palm branches and laid them down on the road before Jesus. They even placed their coats on the dusty ground in order to make a welcoming carpet for him to pass over. The priests and Pharisees watched in anger. The people no longer cared what these men had to say against Jesus. "Look! The entire world has run after him", they muttered. They decided to speed up their plans to put Jesus to death.
As for Jesus, he knew that the excitement of the crowd would die down in a few days time. He knew that most of these people would not be around to protest his death sentence or comfort him as he suffered. Several times in the past months, Jesus warned his disciples of what would happen. "The Son of Man will be delivered to the Gentiles, and he will be mocked and scourged and spit upon. . . They will put him to death, and on the third day he will rise again" (Lk 18:31-33).The Gospel tells us that the disciples did not understand when Jesus spoke to them like this. The words were clear enough, but perhaps the disciples found the idea of Jesus' death just too terrible to accept. Like most people, the disciples were expecting Jesus to use his powers to set himself up as king of Israel. They still did not see that Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins and lead us to a heavenly Kingdom.
But Jesus clearly understood what his Father wanted of him. He accepted the Cross, knowing that his act of obedience would save the world from sin and death. He mentioned it several times while preaching to the people. In the parable of the Good Shepherd, Jesus pointed out that he was not going to be trapped into death against his will but that he would choose it freely: "I lay down my life for my sheep. No on takes it from me; I lay it down freely, and I have the power to take it up again". Another time Jesus make it plain that he had to die for the good of others, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it bring forth much fruit" (Jn 12:24-25).
The Last Supper
Knowing the end was near, Jesus gathered his disciples for their last Passover supper together. The disciples had been quarreling over which of them most deserved to sit close to Jesus when he established his Kingdom. Without a word, Jesus taught them a great lesson in humility. He took the place of a servant and washed their feet.
The disciples were astonished and saddened when Jesus said that one of them would betray him. He identified Judas, who then got up and left. Most of the disciples, however, did not realize what was happening and thought that Jesus had sent Judas on an errand.
There came a moment at the Last Supper that was important not only for the disciples, but for every Christian who would ever live. Our Lord took bread, blessed it, broke it, and said, "Take this. . . This is my Body." Then he took a cup of wine: "This is my Blood, which will be shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins." This was the first Holy Eucharist. We say that Holy Thursday is the day Christ instituted (began) the Holy Eucharist. On this day, he also gave the disciples the power to consecrate the bread and wine. "Do this in memory of me." The Last Supper was the very first Mass.
After the Last Supper, Jesus took his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. There he began to feel afraid at the very thought of the sufferings he would undergo. "Father," Jesus prayed, "If it is possible, take this cup away from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will."
The thought of our sins and ingratitude hurt the loving Heart of Jesus even more than the thought of dying. In his sorrow and agony, Jesus began to sweat blood. God the Father sent an angel to comfort Jesus and strengthen him for the terrible hours ahead.
Judas came, leading a crowd of Temple guards and soldiers to arrest Jesus. The disciples ran away, and Jesus was taken before Caiaphas, the high priest. The chief priest accused him of blasphemy, and he and the other members of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish leaders) sentenced him to death. But being under the rule of the Roman government, they could not carry out this sentence legally. So they took Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. The Jewish leaders attempted to convince Pilate that Jesus was a dangerous criminal who wanted to overthrow the Roman emperor. Pilate knew there was no case against Jesus, and he tried to satisfy the angry crowd by having Jesus scourged. But the crowd insisted that Jesus be put to death. Pilate, afraid of the people, finally agreed to have Jesus crucified.
Scripture and tradition tell us of the painful journey Jesus made, carrying the Cross to Calvary. Only one of the disciples, John, along with Mary and a few of Jesus' women followers, were with him as he hung upon the Cross. Before he died, Jesus asked the Father to forgive his enemies. Even in his most painful moments, he thought of others with love: he forgave the good thief and promised, "This day you will be with me in Paradise." He saw his mother with his youngest disciple, and said, "Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your Mother." With these words, Jesus gave Mary to the whole world, to be spiritual Mother to all God's children.
Our Lord's last words were a final act of surrender to the will of the Father. "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." With these words, Jesus died.
Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534
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