"The Son of Man will be delivered to the gentiles,
The Gospel this morning tells us that the Apostles did not fully understand the nature of our Lord's mission on earth. This is not an isolated passage, for all of the Gospel accounts have at least one similar account. In fact, right after that celebrated passage in which Peter declares our Lord to be "the Christ, the Son of the living God," and our Lord declares that He will build His Church upon the rock that is Peter, that very same Rock tries to persuade Him not to go to Jerusalem at all.2
The reaction of the Apostles is understandable. Our Lord did not recruit them by inviting them to come to Jerusalem with Him to watch Him be crucified -- they were going to become "fishers of men, He had said. And all of them were born and raised in a Jewish culture that was expecting a more military Messias. Like most other Jews, they expected someone who was going to turn the Roman army out of Palestine -- if anything, they expected someone who would be doing the crucifying, and not one getting crucified. He would explain a bit more at the Last Supper,3 but it is very possible that the Apostles lacked a complete understanding of our Lord's death until they had the time to ponder it a few years later in retrospect. In fact the exact meaning of the crucifixion and the other events of our Lord's time on earth would be discussed and debated for centuries.
Paradoxically, even though we 21st century Christians have had the benefit of all that discussion, we seem (many of us) to be far removed from the event of the crucifixion -- no more able to acknowledge it than those about whom we read today. It is not that we don't know about the crucifixion -- we have the Gospels to read, and the works of many writers, and even the research of modern science and medicine. Our problem is not an intellectual one -- we can know about the crucifixxion, but over the years we seem to have lost the ability to relate to it.
For many, the crucifixion is just another event that took place at a certain date and time in history -- it is not something that they feel -- it is not something that brings compuunction for sin to their hearts -- it brings no gratitude either, for many of us take redemption for granted -- at most, modern Christians seem to react only to the cruelty; to the awful pain and prolonged agony. But there are relatively few tears shed -- whether they be tears of joy or sorrow.
Just like the Apostles, we have some excusing causes. Almost two thousand years have past, and most of us have difficulty is associating with anything that long ago. Our life times and, consequently, our memories, are short. A few personal memories are real -- perhaps a wedding day, or the birth or death of loved ones -- but even those things fade with time. We might have some concept of a hundred years -- the length of a long lifetime -- but a thousand years is completely beyond our ken, let alone two thousand.
We also have the distraction of the modern media. Most Americans are exposed to all manner of violence each and every day as they watch the news. We have all seen deaths that seem much more ugly than crucifixion. And the mass media have effected our sense of reality -- what passes for news is sometimes tainted with fiction -- what is fiction often becomes familiar enough to seem like reality. Our soap opera characters and our star-ship captains sometimes seem more real to us than our Redeemer, Who hasn't doesn't have a show of His own.
The reason I mention this modern disassociation from the crucifixion is that we are about to start Lent. And that might be a good way to define Lent: the season when we turn our thoughts to the effort Jesus Christ made on our behalf for our redemption -- the season in which we contemplate the pains that He suffered and the good that we gained.
Let me make a few suggestions:
Take the Lenten fast seriously -- if our Lord could give up His life for us, we ought to be able to give up a few of the pleasures of our lives, and doing so will help us to see things from Christ's perspective.
Likewise, be sure to do good works during Lent -- helping those in need will also help is to understand what our Lord did for us.
Attend to spiritual reading. The Gospels, and particularly the accounts of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection are imperative. If you have more time, then perhaps a book on the spiritual life. Certainly, we must spend more time with our Lord every day than we do with our sports figures, and soap opera and space opera heroes and heroines.
Finally, spend some of that time in prayer. Regular prayer at regular hours. Daily Mass and Communion if possible -- the Rosary certainly. If you are unable to attend Mass daily, why not read it out of your missal and make a spiritual communion. At least attend the Friday night Stations of the Cross.
In all of these things, try to draw closer to the reality of the Crucifixion -- both to know it and to feel it. We are about to begin a spiritual trip to Jerusalem -- a trip that will take us to the Upper Room of the Last Supper, and the Golgotha of the Crucifixion. On Easter Sunday we may re-live the joy of the Resurrection. But in order to have a happy Easter -- in order to actually feel that joy in the Resurrection, we must prepare first by drawing closer to the Crucifixion.
2 Matthew xvi; Mark viii
3 John xiv-xvii.