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Jaime L. WatersApril 01, 2022
Photo from Unsplash.

For over a month, we have witnessed Russian aggression and attacks in Ukraine with countless innocent people dying. Reading today’s Gospel in light of these atrocities draws our attention to how to react to hostile forces, unjust violence and the problems associated with false claims and disinformation.

“This man was innocent beyond doubt” (Lk 23:47).

Liturgical day
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (C)
Lk 19:28-40; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23:56

What can you do to work towards justice in the world?

Are you open to acknowledging uncomfortable truths?

Do you contribute to or embrace misinformation and disinformation?

Today we hear Luke’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus’ betrayal and arrest at the Mount of Olives, Jesus’ trial before Pilate and Herod and his crucifixion and death. Luke includes several unique details that demonstrate Jesus’ leadership, especially in tense moments, and Luke also heightens the pain and the injustice associated with Jesus’ crucifixion.

When Jesus tells his followers that someone among them would betray him, the disciples argue over who among them is the greatest, perhaps realizing that they would need to lead Jesus’ followers after his death. Jesus shifts their focus away from who is the best, instead insisting that true leadership requires serving the needs of the community.

When these future leaders are present for Jesus’ arrest, they try to defend him, drawing swords and even attacking the chief priests and officials leading the arrest. One disciple cuts off the ear of a servant of the high priest, defending Jesus and showing a willingness to fight against injustice. But during the chaos, Jesus insists, “Stop, no more of this,” calling for an end to violence. According to Luke, Jesus then heals the servant’s ear, modeling care, restoration and forgiveness within the context of hostility and attack.

Obviously, the situation detailed in the Gospel is not the same as the attacks waged against Ukraine, but the Gospel does offer complex images of a willingness to fight enemies and a willingness to show love, even when under attack.That it is a servant who is healed could reveal that Jesus recognizes that the servant is not leading the charge against him, so he should not be punished for being present for the events.

Luke intensifies the focus on the unjustness of Jesus’ arrest as the Passion narrative continues. Jesus is taunted and beaten. He is falsely accused and brought before Pilate and then Herod, whose presence at the crucifixion is also unique to Luke. Both leaders conclude that Jesus is innocent, finding no grounds to sentence him to death, yet the crowds continue to shout “Crucify him,” showing bloodlust over fairness and failing to listen to reason.

Unfortunately, many people knowingly or unknowingly are clouded by disinformation, anger and propaganda, and we are living through the ramifications of people failing to think carefully and critically. Jesus recognizes ignorance that leads to his unjust crucifixion, saying “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” a statement found in some but not all Lukan manuscripts. This statement has modern parallels to people living in and fighting for Russia, motivated to fight based on lies and political pressures. Ignorance, as we know, abounds on many levels and in connection to various contentious issues. The Gospel reminds us not to endorse or accept violence uncritically, but to seek truth and resist injustice.

In addition to reflecting on our modern realities, the Lectionary placement calls on us to read the Passion with last Sunday’s Gospel in mind. Recall the story of the woman whom Jesus refuses to condemn, the woman whom Jesus treats with dignity and respect. Jesus models the exact opposite of what he encounters, as he is condemned, mocked and disrespected. The Jewish leaders accused her of adultery, and these are the same authorities who falsely accuse Jesus in today’s Gospel. Perhaps the Lectionary encourages us to rethink the woman, as she, like Jesus, may be innocent. Perhaps Jesus fails to condemn her because she has not done a condemnable act.

As we prepare ourselves to commemorate Jesus’ last days, today’s Gospel offers us ways to react to and deal with injustice, fighting, praying and facilitating healing. We also called to recognize the importance of truth and justice as ways to prevent and heal the injustices of the world.

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