Palm Sunday – sixth in Lent and last before Easter – invites us to read a longer section of the Passion story. (Luke 22:14 – 23:56, or the shorter but still substantial Luke 23:1-49). It is not an easy story – not to read, to enjoy, even to understand.
All the gospel writers insist that this is no mistake or accident. Jesus goes to his death knowingly, and, while horrified at the nature of it, willingly. The story is the climax of the gospel, and represents the victory of God’s plan. How can this be victory? That is the paradox, the challenge to our usual ways of thinking of success. Only when we glimpse what this is all about can we say we understand – and even then, we will tend to lapse into old ways of thinking. Somehow, Jesus execution is what sets us free.
It may help to look at the many failures that happen. Jesus friends fail. Their loyalty rapidly disappears; their understanding was even more limited, and their sympathy is overwhelmed by fear and exhaustion. The governing authorities fail to govern properly. The justice system fails repeatedly. Even at the most basic level, the soldiers who mock and then gamble as men die, lack humanity. Those failures contrast with God’s success. God remains in charge, and the loving plan to work our salvation moves on to completion despite human failure. The contrast is so extreme that it dazzles.
At the same time, those who pass judgement seem unaware that there is double trial in process. Jesus may be under judgement, but so are the judges. As their scorn, their contempt for evidence, procedure, and equity are documented, they face appraisal – and fail. We like to think that we can sit back as superior beings, judging the judges. We easily forget that all who read of the Passion and death of God’s Son are themselves liable to appraisal on their reaction.