“A murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay”: words from one of my favourite Passiontide hymns, “My song is love unknown”. As was the custom at Passover, a prisoner was released. It could have been Jesus, but the crowd called for Barabbas. Ironically, the name Barabbas in Hebrew means, “Son of the Father.” The insurrectionist was released and the real Son of the Father, Jesus, was condemned to die.
The Passion reading we have just heard from Mark’s gospel turns all conventional wisdom on its head. So does the Gospel passage we heard at the beginning of Mass. The one who is acclaimed as king enters Jerusalem in humility, riding on a donkey, as the prophet Zecharia had once prophesied.
The crowds were enthusiastic in their welcome, but we hear in the Passion reading how that same welcoming crowd ended up shouting for the blood of Jesus. Human nature is fickle. We see examples all the time in the news of people who once were the flavour of the month becoming objects of derision. Jesus was spared none of that and neither did he expect to be.
“Not to be served but to serve”, in the words of another much-loved hymn, “The servant King”. Through Holy Week we are reminded of the humility of this King. The washing of feet cannot take place this year on Maundy Thursday, but the reminder is there in the gospel. On Good Friday, we see Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate and refusing to defend himself, other than to testify to the truth.
Jesus is exalted, but on earth that exaltation would come through being lifted up on a Cross. Through the crucifixion, which was intended to be a sign of shame, we see human dignity in its purest form. In the distorted, mocking symbolism of the crown of thorns, we see kingship as it really is. Through the death of Jesus, we see the power of sin and death being overturned. The love of God conquers all things.
This week is central to our faith. We see the real purpose of the ministry of Jesus and the true nature of God. Whereas the love of human beings is fickle, the love of God is constant and unconditional. Through the outpouring of God’s love from the Cross, we can be sure that in every trial we face, God will never desert us. This week I pray that our participation in the liturgical events of Holy Week will lead us into a deeper knowledge of God’s love and a stronger desire to reflect that same love in our lives.