Many of us have been raised in such a way that, after we hear Palm Sunday's Passion narrative (Mt 26:14-27:66), we believe our proper response is simply to say, "Thank you, Jesus! Thank you for dying for me!"

The four evangelists (and all other Christian sacred authors who describe Jesus' suffering and death) are looking for a different response. They anticipate we'll say, "Thank you for showing me how I can die for others."

If Matthew, for instance, wanted to inform us about the  physical pain Jesus endured for us, he did a lousy job. He mentions almost nothing about it. Unbelievably, he describes Jesus' actual crucifixion in just one small, dependent clause: "After they had crucified Him...."

There is nothing about the horrendous pain of nails piercing His wrists or the horrible torment of a raw, scourged back scraping against rough wood for three hours. But the biblical writers want their communities to thank them for hitting them where it hurts: the point in their faith that is the most vulnerable, the issue they'd prefer not to address.


Jesus' followers have one goal in life: to imitate His dying and rising. We presume everyone longs for life -- a content, fulfilled existence in this world, the next or both. Christians are convinced this longed-for life can be attained by walking down the road Jesus first explored: by dying throughout their earthly lives.

The question is, "How do we pull that off?" Do we actually give ourselves over to the physical pain and death Jesus endured? No doubt, for some, such physical pain and death will be necessary.

But, for the majority, our suffering and dying for others will consist of the psychological pain and death we willingly endure for those we love.

That's why Matthew downplays the physical pain and emphasizes the psychological. It's the kind of suffering we most need to hear about, the kind of suffering we'll most likely face.

Listen carefully to Jesus' pain: betrayed by a trusted friend and deserted by His most committed followers...tormented about His mission...misunderstood by those He wanted to help...falsely accused and condemned by His religious and civil leaders.

In spite of all these obstacles, He never stops loving, never stops giving Himself.

Paul zeroes in on the same loving characteristic when he quotes a well-known early Christian hymn in the second reading (Philippians 2:6-11): Jesus "emptied Himself,....humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Giving of self

No one empties oneself for others without experiencing pain. Isaiah discovered that 500 years before Jesus' birth (Isaiah 50:4-7).

Though Yahweh wakes him each morning, opening his ear to prepare him "to speak to the weary a word that will arouse them," it's those "weary" who seem eventually to have killed him. They're the people who beat him, plucked his beard and spit on him.

Both Jesus and Isaiah were convinced that one reaches life only by giving, even if the giving is misunderstood, rejected and the source of one's daily dying.