See What the End Shall Be – A Meditation on the Lucan Passion Narrative of Palm Sunday

032313The Passion which we read in today’s liturgy is too long to comment on in detail. We are only able to take a portion and examine it.

The usual villains such as the Temple leaders, Judas, and the recruited crowd, which shouted “Crucify him!” are fairly obvious in displaying their sinfulness and are unambiguously wicked.

But there are others who participate in the Passion accounts whose sinfulness, struggles and neglect are more subtle, but still real and contribute significantly to the Lord’s sufferings on Good Friday. It is, perhaps, in these figures that we can learn a great deal about ourselves. For while we may not overtly shout “crucify,” we are often not as holy and heroic as the persecutors were wicked and bold.

As these behaviors are noted, we must understand that WE do these things. For the Passion accounts are not merely portraits of people long gone, they are portraits of you and me. We do these things.

So, lets look at sins and weaknesses of Jesus followers (us) in three stages.

I. The Perception that is Partial – In the middle of the Last Supper, in today’s Gospel the disciples of Jesus are reminded of what the next days will hold. Jesus says,

I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until there is fulfillment in the Kingdom of God…for the Son of Man indeed goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed…..It is you who have stood by me in my trials;
and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

But note that the apostles are reminded of these facts of Jesus coming sufferings in the context of future glory. Yes, He will suffer, but so as to usher in a Kingdom. Jesus does not merely preach the Cross, he preaches the glory that comes from this cross. He does it here, and he has said this to them before on a few occasions. For example:

  1. From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matt 16:21)
  2. When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief. (Matt 17:22-23)
  3. We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matt 20:19)

Thus we see that the Lord has consistently tried to teach and prepare them for the difficulties ahead. He has told them exactly what is going to happen, AND, how it will end: NOT in death, but rising to new life, not in defeat but the ushering in of a new Kingdom, of light over and against the kingdom of darkness.

But though he has told them over and over, they still do not understand or see. They will be overwhelmed by the cross and all of the (except John) will flee.

Why? For their perception is partial and they will see only the negative, and forget that he has promised to rise. Since they cannot see beyond the apparent defeat of the moment they will retreat into fear and not boldly and confidently accompany him to his passion and glorification (for his passion IS is lifting up, his glorification). Instead they will flee. He has shown the “what the end shall be.” But they cannot see or accept it. Thus fear overwhelms them and draw back into a sinful fear and disassociation from Jesus.

Only a few, Mary his Mother, John, Magdalene, and a few other women would see him through to the end.

We too can easily suffer from a perception that is partial. For the Lord has often told us, that if we trust, our struggles will end in glory and new life. But, blind and forgetful, we give way to our fears and fail to boldly walk the way of Christ’s passion. We draw back and disassociate ourselves from Jesus and exhibit some of the same tendencies and problems we will now observe in the people of that day.

So lets examine some of the problems that emerge from the partial perception and forgetful fear of many of the disciples and others.

II. The Problems Presented – The problems that emerge are at least five. They are unhealthy and sinful patterns that emerge from the fear generated in not trusting Jesus vision and refusing to see it. We can consider them one by one. Please understand that the word “we” used here is shorthand and does not mean that every single person does this. Rather, it means that, collectively, we have these tendencies. But no need to take everything here personally.

A. DUPLICITY  – In today’s overall liturgy there is a kind of whiplash, for we begin by the shout “Hosanna!” And within minutes, we then shout “Crucify Him.” And in this we see both our inconsistency and even outright duplicity. The book of James says, From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. (James 3:10) But it often is so and thus we see first, our duplicity.

B. DEBATES and DISTRACTIONS – The scene of the Last Supper is as disgraceful as it is sad. Jesus has just announced that he will be betrayed. And rather than focus on the common enemy and threat, the apostles get into a debate among themselves about who is the greatest. In the midst of this debate Judas is able to slip away.

We too often permit our common enemy, Satan, to go untouched, while we debate and posture and among ourselves. We don’t even lay a glove on him since we are too busy fighting each other. We squabble over power, prestige and possessions.

Within the Church we argue over liturgy, vestments and styles of music, who has power or prominence, who is in what wing of the Church etc. We spend endless energy arguing over the significance of the Pope wearing red shoes and ermine or not, and Judas (Satan) goes about unhindered. Meanwhile we have lost the culture. Satan has shredded our families, schools, and other key institutions. He slips away unharmed. And we argue over polyester vestments.

Our distractions and debates gravely harm our capacity to focus on pushing back the kingdom of darkness. In John’s account as Judas slips away, John writes simply, “It was night.” 

And so it is night in our culture. And it has become so very dark on our watch, as we are distracted by endless debates about things that are secondary. Satan s lips away into the darkening night of our culture and great harm has come while we debate on. We are endlessly distracted while our enemy goes forth unhindered.

C. DROWSINES – One of the common human techniques for dealing with stress and the hardships of life is to just go numb and drowsy. We can just doze off into a moral sleep.

Being vigilant to threats posed to our souls by sin, or the harm caused by injustice, (whether to ourselves or others) is just too stressful. So we just tune out. We stop noting or really even caring about critically important matters.

We anesthetize ourselves with things like creature comforts, meaningless distractions, alcohol or drugs. We go into a kind of moral sleep and we begin to lack a prayerful vigilance. Prayer and spirituality pose too many uncomfortable questions.

So we just tune out and daydream about meaningless things like what a certain Hollywood star is doing, or what the latest sports stats are.

In the passion accounts, Peter, James and John are personally asked by the Lord to pray with him. But they doze. Perhaps it is the wine. Surely it is the flesh (for the Lord speaks of it). But unwilling or unable to deal with the stress the Lord is clearly under, they just tune out, go numb, and doze off.

Grave evil is at the very door. But they sleep on. The Lord warns them to stay awake, lest they give way to temptation. But still they sleep. Someone they know and love is in grave danger, but it is too much, so they just tune out, much as we tune out at the overwhelming suffering of Christ in the poor and needy. We just stop noticing. It’s too painful, so we tune out.

The Lord had often warned them to be vigilant, sober and alert (Mk 13:34, Matt 25:13, Mk 13:37; Matt 24:42; Luke 21:36, inter al). Other scriptures would later pick up the theme (Romans 13:11; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 Thess 5:6, inter al). For drowsiness is a significant and serious spiritual problem.

Sadly God described us well when he remarked to Isaiah: Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. (Is 56:10)

But, despite the sleepiness of the disciples, the wicked are still awake, and the threat does not go away by a drowsy inattentiveness to it. Thus we ought to be confident and sober. Life’s challenges are nothing to fear, for the Lord has told us we have already won, if we trust him. But the disciples have forgotten Jesus promise to rise after three days. And so, often, have we. So they, and we just give way to stress and tune out.

D. DISASSOCIATING – Peter, confronted with the fearful prospect of being condemned with Jesus denies that he knows him or is one of his followers. He disassociates himself from Christ.

We too, confronted with the possibility of far lesser things like ridicule, will often deny a connection with the Lord or with the Church. Someone might say of one of the more controversial passages of scripture (such as prohibitions on divorce, fornication, homosexual activity, commands to tithe, etc), “Oh, you don’t really believe that, do you?” And it’s too easy to give way to fear and either say “no” or to qualify our belief. Why suffer ridicule, endure further questioning, or experience the unpleasantry of debate?

So we just disassociate, compromise, or qualify our faith to avoid the stress. We even congratulate ourselves for being tolerant, etc. when we do it.

Jesus says, If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mat 16:21).

But too easily we ARE ashamed. And so, like Peter, we engage in some form of denial. Peter was afraid because he has forgotten to “see what the end shall be.” He has forgotten that Jesus will rise after three days. So too do we often forget that. So we lack confidence and give way to fear, and we deny, so as to avoid suffering with Jesus.

E. DODGINGSimply put, when Jesus is arrested, all the disciples except John split. They “get the heck out of Dodge.” They are nowhere to be found. One of them, (could it be Mark himself?) ran off naked.

After Jesus’ arrest, it is said that Peter, prior to his own denials had followed the Lord, “at a distance” (Mk 14:54) but as soon as trouble rose, he too scrammed.

And we too can run. Sometimes it’s persecutions from the world. But sometimes its just our own self-generated fear that following the Lord is too hard, and involves too many sacrifices we are just not willing to make. Maybe it will endanger our money since the Lord insists that we tithe and be generous to the poor. Maybe it will endanger our playboy lifestyle since the Lord insists on chastity and respect. Maybe we are doing something we have no business doing, that is unjust, excessive or sinful. But, rather than face our fears, whether from within or without, we just high-tail it out.

The disciples forgot that Jesus has shown them what the end shall be. In three days he would win the victory. But, this forgotten, their fears emerged and they ran. We too, must see what the end shall be to resist and confront our many fears.

F. DEFLECTING – Now in this case our example is Pontius Pilate, not one of the disciples. But the fact is that Pilate was summoned to faith, just like anyone else. “Are you a King?” he asked Jesus. And Jesus responds by putting Pilate on trial: “You say so.” In other words, “It is you who have said these words. Do you think they are true?”

The fact is, Pilate has a choice to make. Either he will accept what Jesus is saying as true, or he will give way to fear and commit a terrible sin of injustice.

In order to avoid making a stance Pilate sends Jesus to Herod. But Herod deflects as well.  Now the texts all make it clear that Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. But, because he feared the crowds he handed Jesus over.

Now, note PILATE did this. The crowds tempted him through fear, but HE did the condemning. The text says, The verdict of Pilate was that the demand of the crowd should be granted. Matthew’s account has him say, I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” (Mat 16:21).

Well, actually Pilate, it is also YOUR responsibility. You had a choice and you made. Your own career and hide were more important that justice. And, though you wanted to do what was right and were sympathetic with Jesus, merely wanting to do what is right is not enough.

So too for us. We also will favor our career or hide over what is right. And in so doing we will often blame others for what we freely choose. “I am not responsible, my mother dropped me on my head when I was two” ….etc.

In effect we are often willing to say, “Look Jesus, I love you. You get my Sundays, and my tithe and, generally I obey you. But you have to understand, I have a career, I need to make money for my family. If I really stand up for what is right, I might not make it in this world. You understand, don’t you?…I know the company is doing some things that are unjust, I know the world needs a clearer witness from me….and I’ll do all that, after I retire. But for now…..well, you know. It’s really may boss whose to blame. It’s this old hell bound sin soaked world that’s to blame. Not me!” And we wash our hands and excuse our silence and inaction in the face of injustice and sin.

And all this is done in fear. We placate the crowd and give them what they want.

We forget what the end shall be and get focused on the fearful present. We lack the vision Jesus is trying to give us that in three days we will rise with him. But we stay blind to that and only see the threat of now.

III. The Path that is Prescribed – OK, by now you ought to know the path that is prescribed: See what the end shall be! In three days we rise! Why are we afraid? Jesus has already won the victory. It is true, we get there through the cross. But, never forget what the end shall be! Today we read the Gospel of Friday, but wait till Sunday morning! I’ll rise!

We end where we began with this gospel: and I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Yes, after he has been raised, Jesus will go before us into Galilee. And for us, Galilee is heaven. Whatever our sorrows, if we are faithful we will see Jesus in the Galilee of heaven. Never forget this vision. After three days we will rise with him and be reunited in Galilee. One day we will reign with him, if we hold out and journey to Galilee.

So take courage, see what the end shall be! The end for those who are faithful is total victory. We don’t need to drowse, destroy, deny, dodge and deflect. We’ve already won. All we need to do is hold out.

An old Gospel songs says, I promised the Lord that I would hold out! He said he’s meet me in Galilee! So hold out, Galilee is not far, in three days we rise with him.


8 Replies to “See What the End Shall Be – A Meditation on the Lucan Passion Narrative of Palm Sunday”

  1. I think ten of the Apostles were martyred. May we have their final courage, as we clearly have their weaknesses.

  2. How i wish we had had the blessing of such a strong homily when i was younger. Here is the plain spoken truth. not lacking in charity, but painfully obvious truth. We need this so badly today. I liken us to chickens in the hen yard, all running to and fro crying “the sky is falling!” So caught up in our moments of fear and excitement, we don’t see the fox standing behind us licking his lips.

  3. The playbook has been reviewed, the actors are ready, , the stage is prepared and the gestures are holding the curtain. Let’s get ready for the long awaited and well prepared cyclical show?

    God and I have retained front row seats!………….PhotoMaineAC

  4. on b) debates and distractions: Yeah, but… The whole deal isn’t about focusing on evil and defeating it. For starters, that just wouldn’t work. We can only defeat evil by turning to the Lord. And that’s precisely what some of these debates about polyester and whatnot are about, seems to me…

  5. Msgr. Charles Pope says:
    March 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm



    I have been involved with a great many dioceses and several Bishops over the last 30 years so perhaps I can shed some light. I can only guess that your com-box is filled with many varied complaints about item “B” in your list, or my guess is it’s eerily silent. So I will try to answer as honestly and unbiased as I am able, if you will honestly consider what I will say. It is not intended as personal or any reflection on you so please bare with me and disregard those thing you already know. Let us start with something we share, that being a heartfelt love of God.

    In your talk to families you say you are a changed man and relate how that love of God must be conveyed to our children. You also talk of silence and reading the bible, all the signs and ways it works. That conversion or acceptance, whatever term applies to that grace of a heartfelt love of God. It makes a passage you’ve read 20 times say more than you saw before. You see more, feel more solid in God’s ways and it give that gentile certitude that is not of this worlds making. Why is this important and what does it have to do with your article? Because it is the grace of God that changes a persons view, attitude, life. You can see clearly why the Church teaches what she teaches and understand they are not rules to hammer us down but a loving mother with God’s wisdom. We not only learn humility, but empathy. Here is where the trouble begins. One also starts to see how far above us God really is and we see our sinfulness. The more aware we become the more we honor and praise God as we see His holiness.
    And we see how serious His passion was and what the world has become. The Catholic church is our refuge, our anchor. This heartfelt love of God is what Vatican II professed, what the New Evangelization is all about. All we have to do is show the world what we know and have lived, pretty much what you say in your talk to parents for their children. I would think a Pastors dream would be to fill his parish with souls like these. But in most parishes they are not there or they are but the pastor won’t even know them. This is the true Satan, the one who has sown confusion and heartache and misunderstanding throughout the Church. This is why the Year of Faith or the New Evangelization isn’t happening in very many parishes. “B” above is backwards, and without realizing it you hit the
    worst nerve in our Church. The great sin of satan is not that the bickering and arguing goes on but that it is happening at all. We all know Judas was shown to the apostles “is it I Lord?” Then he was commanded to leave by Christ himself when He said “do what you must do quickly.” David’s comment is trying to say that Judas has not left because he sees him quite clearly, and I would surmise so do countless others who follow your articles.

    The great evil is this division itself and the reasons for it. To be very clear the Church has always had extremest of all ilk and still has more than her fair share, so let’s just consider those good people with a heartfelt love of God.
    They are not here because they were driven away and are kept at bay by labels and camps, misunderstanding and at times malice. They have been maligned, insulted and beaten down in diocese after diocese, parish after parish until they are now silent or scattered. And because that was not enough satan pits them against each other but especially sows a mistrust of priests and parishes. In my dealings with priests I hear about trads and liberals and how nothing pleases either, etc. These poor people aren’t radicals and nit pickers, they love God and His church! Why are all these good people out there instead of in here where we need them, passing on the wisdom as you mentioned and being formed by God in their journey as living witnesses? Because they have been cast off and abandoned by God’s priests. At first some sadly went straight to the extreme over the Liturgy. A person who loves God learns and loves the symbolism, learns their meanings and the beauty. So when the mass changed of course those afraid of change yelled and left. But I ask where were the priests to glorify and bless the mass as it was meant, that being a way to promote this heartfelt love of God. We saw sadly many statue smashing fundraisers and gutting of the liturgy with all that I know you’ve heard of. What you may not know is, this was in most (95%) of parishes.and not the isolated cases most priests think. Even before Humane Vitae was even released thousands of priests across Europe, Canada and the U.S. denounced it before they had even read it. Of course there were lay people as well, but not the vast majority. Today, right now, anyone can go to any Catholic church and find a completely different liturgy surrounding the consecration and hear conflicting sermons on terribly important matters of faith and morals. Anyone can go to confession tonight and hear abortion is OK in certain circumstances or that other grave matters are not sinful. This is where priests refuse to listen to the truth that this is more the norm than they can sadly admit. When our parishes reach out to those in need, many are broken and need the warmth of compassion. God does great things with this first step but empathy and a heartfelt love of God tells us there is more. We need to lift them up, to share the truth of what we know and live. For example, you mentioned the Adam and Eve example in your talk but you did not say exactly what they were being taught. Untold thousands of parents with fallen away children could answer that to any one of our priests if they would listen.But they will not. And if they do they will label it as you did without realizing it in “B”. Priests are our shepherds, our loving fathers and good or bad they are our link to the sacraments. So why can’t they say mass with a heartfelt love of God? Why are we holding hands at the Our Father when our mother the Church asks we don’t? Why do we have every musical gimmick under the sun at mass and show such disrespect, for isn’t this the glory of God and his terrible sacrifice and redemption we celebrate? These are the questions those with a heartfelt love ask although they sometimes can’t express it well. They shouldn’t have to ask these questions at all and there is satan full face.

    “Satan has shredded our families, schools, and other key institutions. He slips away unharmed. And we argue over polyester vestments”.

    And who was in charge of these and is still in charge of these? The laity are responsible for this? No, the laity
    see satan very clearly and he is very much still here. But he will not win so they have hope and fight it any way they can. And to imply that the laity are causing division in the church over trivial matters of no consequence is a grave injustice to the many who tried for years and were belittled or scandalized for the effort. They may sound like the know better than the church, but the truth of all this is they merely want and desire that priests faithfully hand on what our mother the church has given. And that is in no way “catering” to their every whim. You would think it would be a joyful honor to serve the people of God and guide and instruct them so they don’t go to petty extremes.

    So what has happened is truly the sin of which you mention. We have many who have turned to the extreme but in their hearts never wanted to. Many that have joined the SSPX I have found just want a mass said with reverence, they are not rebelling against the church. They are hurt that God’s mass is a not so joyful noise and her ministers say “what’s the big deal?” At the other end are those who fell in with the experiment but in time found their good heart being taken advantage of by committees and feel good dead ends so they have faded to the edges and struggle with keeping the faith. In both cases there was no proper instruction or guidance which would have righted their path resulting with them having a proper limit and outlook. Only through the grace of God is the middle group, those who tried to hang on and be good and faithful catholics. But they have not stopped living their faith to the fullest although they are better educated now and extremely wary of the churches outward structure. They faithfully attend mass, grit their teeth and then go out and serve. They pray together, home school many times and even help the parish in small ways. There is a great number of them, more than most realize. And of course they have shown up here on your site. I myself just recommended your videos and your 12 step articles as some of the best you have ever done. You have the ring of truth and they can see you have the love of God, so like it or not your site has been a pulpit for thousands of these good people who cannot and do not hear anything but overly sentimental nonsense. The very same polls you quote as well as others reveal the truth of these things and other facts, such as most vocations now come from these same people of which I refer.

    In my opinion, these are the very people the church needs the most, but with this lack of understanding and distrust on both sides as well as among themselves and the clergy it would take a genuine act of goodwill. Turn a bad into a good. It would be easy if good priests were not so busy or could seek out those around their area or hidden in their parishes. Some good priests have done this and have well organized RCIA’s and solid programs
    including Latino programs. Sadly Latinos are falling away faster than anyone in the church at present.

    So it is not the red shoes which represents the martyrs blood, especially Peters which is to remind the Holy Father to be humble. Although some wail on most good people know they are optional and not some signal of doom at all. I would ask that you take another listen and perhaps hear the sound of faithful catholics of all rank and backgrounds learning and teaching themselves as best they know how because they have no shepherds except good priests like yourself. They are generally the salt of the earth catholics carrying a lot of hurt and happily taking care of their stuff as you say. Debate is conversation and can only be deemed a good thing. And a heartfelt love of God with some honest conversation would do much to get everyone out of the darkness.

    My apologies, I’m tired and rushed this off. I just hope I shed some light on a very difficult subject.
    Keep up the good work and God Bless our good priests and bad alike, because we need them.

    1. Just for the record my combox was not filled with comments about B. you were the only one. While not denying that externals are important and have cast aside by some today inappropriately, it does not follow that excessive concern about them is right, such that weightier matters such as charity and untiy are cast aside. The shameful behavior of some liturgical traditionalists within hours of the election of Pope Francis is emblematic of straining gnats and swallowing camels, of manifesting a grave lack of charity and sowing seeds of anger and disunity over matters of taste and style. Going to the SSPX is another of example of preferring the trappings of piety to true unity, of preferring schism to unity. It indicates an excessive correction to the problem of minimalism. I like a richer savoring of Catholic externals and it would seem that most younger clergy do as well, but I like charity and unity even more and see little reason to let lace have a prominence that unecessarily wounds love.

      1. I am glad to hear it was the latter and not the former. That is a good sign in a way. It doesn’t mean I won’t get flack from all sides for not getting X right or saying too little or too much etc etc etc. Some of the priests I know probably want to wring my neck. But we have real problems coming our way and I would like to see these honestly talked about and worked out somewhat before they get here. If not, the problems will have us all on the same side quick enough.

        That attack was an occasion of unity. Unfortunately we shared a collective shame and anger. It is also an example of those who have persisted so far for so long that conversation is almost unintelligible and reduced strictly to their demands. But it does not surprise me. This tendency towards shock value behavior and comments has been building up for quite a while. All through the elections, the HHS mandate, the SSPX talks, and the pope stepping down we have been assaulted with blatant untruths and shameful remarks from supposed “catholics”. Did that slow us down and get us entrenched in our camps? No. And neither should this. Let’s get back to doing the best we can with what we have. I believe that was the valid point you made.

        And I wholeheartedly agree that charity must be the center. People forget that we are God’s treasure, our hearts and souls. When they remember this, things tend to properly order themselves to their proper place. They also find the labels are too quick to stick and some in the other camp are also catholic.

        In all fairness I have to mention priests have their own problems that the laity are unaware. I heard a talk by the Bishop of Military Services, and have often thought we should ALL attend a Mass under fire. All the trivial matters would most likely vanish and we would certainly see our priests in a different light.

        Thank you for the conversation Msgr. and for your good work. I’ve wanted to ask if your talk on families is available. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to pass that around.

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