Palm Sunday C • SJF • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
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... Who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
We return today, as we do every three years to Saint Luke’s account of the passion and death of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The readings from Isaiah and Philippians are the same each year, and each of them highlight the suffering and humiliation that our Lord underwent on his way to the cross and Calvary. But Luke’s account in particular brings out some elements that highlight the nature of the mind of Christ that Saint Paul describes in that Letter to the Philippians. Paul describes the mind that Jesus had to empty himself out in humility and to suffer humiliation. Saint Paul calls upon those who hear these words to have that same mind in themselves, a mind not of pride and self-exaltation, but of humility.
As I said, Saint Luke’s account gives us some of what this means, in part by portraying those who seem not to have the mind of Christ in them — those who instead of emptying themselves and choosing the lowest place, exalt themselves to grab the best seats — like children playing musical chairs, instead of acting as they should as apostles of Jesus Christ.
Yes, it’s the apostles themselves who are shown acting in this way. It is certainly true that all of the evangelists portray the apostles as not fully understanding their Lord and master; but Luke highlights this very strongly by placing some of the boldest examples of this bad behavior right in the midst of the Lord’s Supper. And so it is that right after Jesus has said to the apostles that one of them will betray him, and they all wonder who it could be, the very next thing out of their mouths is a dispute about which one of them will be considered the greatest.
Jesus very quickly reminds them that this kind of political talk is out of place amongst them. It is not that there won’t be leaders and followers, for it is only natural that some will have certain gifts that others lack. But the leader should act, as Jesus himself does, as the servant to the rest. He demonstrates his mind by noting that he is among them as one who serves — and if he, the master, is content to be a servant, so too ought they be willing to serve — even to serve the youngest among them.
Towards the end of Luke’s account of the passion the evangelist provides two other details that are not present in the other Gospels. On his way to the cross, Jesus encounters that group of unnamed women of Jerusalem who are weeping and wailing. And what is striking is that Jesus has some hard words rather than comforting words for them — “Do not weep for me but for yourselves and for your children.” And he echoes the prophets and says that the days are coming when people will be so terrified that they will ask to be buried alive rather than to face the horrors that are coming. He ends with that striking question, “If they do this when the wood is green, what will they do it is dry?”
Now, that is a somewhat odd saying to us. Most of us don’t have fireplaces to burn wood, green or otherwise. It would make more sense if we place ourselves back in those days, and in the context in which Jesus says it. Jesus is warning those weeping women — those who weep for him instead of considering their own perilous plight — by noting, “If this” — meaning crucifixion — “is what happens to an innocent man, just what do you think is going to happen to you who are guilty? Weep for yourselves!” Jesus is offering them no easy word of comfort, but a prophetic warning, to repent and above all to have his mind in them, to have that mind not set on pride and ambition or whatever it was wrong about them and their lives — but on service and humility. Is he hard on these poor women? Perhaps so — but not as hard as it will be for them if they do not take his warning; if they do not get their lives in order.
Finally, and in much the same vein, Luke offers us one more example of the difference between pride and humility. He presents us, as the other evangelists do, with the two thieves crucified on either side of Jesus. But Luke, unlike the other evangelists, presents them to us with contrasting personalities and actions.
Both of them know that they are guilty, condemned for their crimes and getting their just deserts. But one of them seems interested only in being let off the hook — if he really even means what he says at all; for he may simply be joining in with the jeering at Jesus as the rest of the crowd is doing. But the other thief rebukes him, reminding him of their guilt, but then, instead of asking to be delivered from this just penalty, he admits his guilt and asks Jesus for only one thing — to be remembered by him in the life of the world to come. You might say that this man, rather than the other, has truly taken up his own cross and followed Jesus.
He may be the only character in the drama who has even an inkling of the mind of Christ — and the knowledge, and above all the hope, that it is in dying with him, trusting in him, that he has any chance of participating in his kingdom. No one else in the passion other than Jesus and this thief “humbles himself and becomes obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.” And only this man is given the promise that he will be with Jesus in Paradise.
This is Luke’s lesson for us in his account of the passion: not to grab at fame and power, but to submit and serve. Not to weep for others without looking at our own condition first, and seeing where our own lives are out of order, and need to be put back in God’s order. Luke calls us, in the voice of Jesus to the women, to repent and be prepared, to admit our faults and to throw ourselves upon the mercy of the one who suffered for us, who emptied himself and took the form of a slave, who became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. None of us is likely to suffer anything like this — God protect us if we do. But each of us can humble ourselves, and take the position of service to others that will show by our deeds that we have the mind of Christ. May that same mind be in us as was in him.+