“When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54)
In the course of our liturgy this week, we shall be re-enacting the greatest events of history: the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We have just read the Passion Narrative according to Matthew, let us now put ourselves into the characters of this story and watch how it relates to us today.
*1. We Gain Nothing by Betraying Our Friends*
At the beginning of the Passion narrative, we see Judas Iscariot going all the way to meet the chief priests: “What would you give me if I deliver him to you?” Our people say that it is the rat inside the house that goes to inform other rats outside that there is food in the house. The enemy outside cannot succeed without the cooperation of the enemy inside.
Right from time immemorial, betrayal has always come from very close friends and trusted colleagues. We can never be careful enough; we must learn to constantly surrender our friends to God who alone has the power of seeing the minds of people just as Jesus knew ahead of time that Judas would betray him.
Peter boasted about dying with Jesus but eventually, he and the other disciples could not stay awake for even one hour. What type of friend are you? Are you the type who abandons your friends when they need you the most? When the chips are down? When last did you pray to God on behalf of your friends?
Judas used a kiss (i.e. a friendly signal) to identify Jesus. Jesus said to Judas, “Friend, why are you here?” letting Judas know that he was still his friend despite the betrayal. Jesus never held any grudge against Judas. Whether we like it or not, betrayal would come but the question is, how quickly are you willing to forgive your friends?
After failing to pray with Jesus, Peter brought out his sword thinking it was a physical battle. Jesus said something very striking: “all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” As St. Paul would say: “we wrestle not against flesh and blood.” It is not every battle we fight with swords and guns, learn to fight on your knees.
*2. Beware of Greed: Money Can Never Be Enough for Anybody*
As St. Paul would say: “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) If in the name of making money, you fail to love your neighbour as yourself and sell out your friends, it means you have made money your god. The money that Judas hoped to enjoy from the sale of Jesus was eventually used to buy the field in which he hung himself. This was the origin of the term, blood money; money made with the blood of others. (Matthew 27:6)
If your source of making money is not legit, you can never enjoy it. Money by itself is good and money actually brings happiness but not all money is good. There is a type of money that is a blessing from God or a reward for hard work, it doesn’t come with sorrow attached but there is a type of money that does not give joy or peace of mind. There are some people today who are strikingly rich but cannot sleep well at night. Their money is their curse. Learn to be content with your little and God will increase you. Never envy someone just because he is rich; you don’t know the full story.
Jesus gave Judas an opportunity to repent from his evil plan by mentioning it openly at table but instead of owning up, Judas joined in the chorus of denial. He too asked, “Is it I, Master?” Instead of trying to look good before others, ask for help. One day, everything you are hiding now will be brought to light. While Judas was trying to maintain a good public image, Matthew tells us that Peter, (after realizing that the prophecy of Jesus had come to pass) “went out and wept bitterly.” Peter’s action can be likened to what we do when we go for confession. Never be ashamed of kneeling before a priest to tell him your dirty secrets. If you hide your sins, your sins will eventually hide you.
*3. Every Sin is a Choice of Barabbas over Jesus*
When Jesus was brought before Pilate, it was obvious to Pilate that Jesus was innocent but somehow, he lacked the willpower to caution the accusers of Jesus. At times, we know what is right but we still prefer to do what is wrong. Why is it so difficult to just do the right thing?
Pilate thought he could bribe the people by asking them to make choice between Jesus and the notorious criminal Barabbas but to his surprise, the people roared: “Barabbas.” There were perhaps some people who ordinarily would have shouted “Jesus” but seeing how so many others were calling Barabbas, they joined in as well. The fact that everyone is doing it does not make it right. Every human being has a conscience, there is the voice of God inside you telling you to act right, listen to it. Forget what is fashionable out there, forget what society condones, if is not right, it cannot be right.
Pilate made another grievous mistake. He thought that by beating up Jesus, the crowd would be satisfied. He knew Jesus was innocent, yet, instead of just decreeing his release, he was trying to please the crowd. In this life, you can never please people. Learn to be firm, let heaven fall, and just do the right thing.
*4. Every Day is Not Christmas Day: Trust God When the Chips are Down*
The crowd saw Jesus almost half dead, yet they insisted he must die; meanwhile, these were the same people who received miracles from him, the same people who enjoyed his loaves of bread and fish, the same people who put palm fronds on the floor while he was coming into Jerusalem. In this life, you can never please people. Just be good for the sake of being good. If you help anybody, don’t expect them to help you back, take it that you are storing up treasures in heaven. I tell you, people will disappoint you.
Now let us ask, why did the crowd turn against Jesus like this? What gave them the audacity to insult Jesus, spit on him, or make a mockery of him? They saw Jesus naked, face disfigured, ribs and arms broken, with blood all over his body. They saw Jesus in such a pitiable condition that they started doubting if truly He is God. They didn’t believe that the same God they serve could descend so low. They said: “you saved others, how come you cannot save yourself now? you said you can raise up the temple in three days, how come you cannot restore your flesh now? in fact, if you are truly God, just come down from the cross and we would believe you.”
Are these not the same questions we ask God when our prayers are not answered immediately? Don’t we often become disappointed with God when things are not working for us? Child of God, know that no matter how good you are, every day cannot be Christmas day. Jesus was totally heartbroken. He prayed: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” There would be moments like this in the life of every Christian. Brace up! And if you are currently experiencing such now, know that it is only for a while. God knows what He is doing.
When Jesus died, the whole earth shook to its foundations, the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom, tombs were opened, many saints returned to life, and appeared to righteous persons. In fact, it was only after the death of Jesus that it dawned on people that “Truly, this was the Son of God.” Nothing last forever. Don’t worry, the time is coming that those who are laughing at you now will come and kneel before you. Just don’t give up; keep doing what is right.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, free me from the love of money and the desire to please people. May I choose Jesus instead of Barabbas. May my faith be firm especially in trying times. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: Mt. 21:1-11, Is 50:4-7, Ps. 22, Ph 2:6-11, Mt. 26:14-27:66).*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu