Palm Sunday / Passion Sunday [C]
Isaiah 50:4-7 + Philippians 2:6-11 + Luke 22:14—23:56
March 20, 2016
“Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave….”
No one likes being a slave. It’s one thing to be an employee. In our own day and age an employee has rights, including the important right to walk off the job. It may have been a few years, but you’ve probably heard the country song whose title begins with the words “Take this job….” We like having the freedom to say those words, even if it’s qualified by the real-life need to support ourselves and our families, whose well-being we don’t want to jeopardize.
But an employee is very different from a slave. Real slavery offers no terms. Even ‘indentured servitude’ is different than slavery because it offers in the here and now not freedom, but the hope of freedom. In the year 1670, a young man in England named John Horsington agreed to enter indentured servitude in exchange for passage to the New World. He served his time in what later became the state of Connecticut. I don’t know how many years of freedom he enjoyed in the New World before his death, but he believed that those years of servitude were worth it.
But Jesus became a slave to sin. Saying this is different, of course, than saying that Jesus sinned. Jesus, like His Mother, never committed sin, or inherited Original Sin. On the other hand, Saint Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians states that God the Father “made [Jesus] to be sin[, Him] who did not know sin” [2 Cor 5:15]. It’s in the light of this truth that today, on Palm Sunday, we need to look on Jesus as a slave to sin.
The difference between Jesus and us is that Jesus freely accepted the yoke of the Cross. On the other hand, sinful human beings—stretching from Adam and Eve to us—always accept slavery freely, but by sinning, lose our very freedom. The devil whispered to Eve, “You shall be like gods!” Had he spoken the truth he would have told them “You shall be true slaves!”
Jesus, however, “though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave….”
The optimistic triumph of Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem stands in contrast to the spite-filled mockery of Jesus’ recession out of Jerusalem to the top of Calvary. This descent of Jesus into slavery (we might call it His reversal of fortune) is progressive. We can hear this progress—or rather, regress—in our own words as we speak for the crowd during the proclamation of the Passion. Towards the proclamation’s end, when Jesus is offered wine, the “crowd” issues a command to the divine slave: “If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
In those two words lie slavery to sin: “Save yourself.” From Adam and Eve, to Jesus and Mary, to you and me, all of mankind has been tempted by those words: “Save yourself.” Only Christ and His Blessed Mother never tried to put those words into practice. Every other member of the human race, from Adam and Eve to you and me, has tried to save himself or herself. Tried… and failed. Only God can save. The fact that Jesus was God, but did not save Himself on Calvary, reveals to us what life is supposed to be about. Life is not about saving our selves. It is not even about our selves. Trying to save our selves leads to death. In the words of the Pope’s patron saint, “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”