Four Questions and a Cross
User’s Guide to Sunday, April 9
Sunday, April 9, is Passion (Palm) Sunday (Year A). Mass Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7, Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66 or 27:11-54
The way questions are used in today’s Passion reading is telling.
First, a leading question demeans God. Satan asked a question to sow doubt: “Did God really say, ‘You shall not …’?” As soon as Eve entertained the question, she was beat. Judas asked the same kind of question: “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” The very question assumes that some price would be acceptable. And Pilate’s question — “Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas, or Jesus, called Christ?” — does the same thing: It assumes the two choices are equal. Whenever we weigh God against any other good, we follow Eve, Judas and Pilate into the devil’s trap.
Second is the question that deflects responsibility. After murdering his brother, Cain famously asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And when the apostles hear that one will betray Christ, they each worry — not about Jesus, but about being blamed: “Surely it is not I, Lord?”
Pilate plays this game, too. When the people want to crucify Jesus, he asks: “Why? What evil has he done?” The question is designed to establish Pilate’s innocence while he kills Jesus.
We do so whenever we stop looking at what we should do and shift to what we can get away with.
Jesus uses questions honestly. His questions respect our freedom and help us reflect on what we are doing and why we are doing it.
“So, you could not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asks Peter. “Have you come out against a robber with swords and clubs to seize me?” he asks the temple guards.
Jesus also beseeches God. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,” he implores — twice. “Yet not as I will, but as you will,” he adds. And he isn’t afraid to cry out the question we ask in today’s Psalm: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The Passion account shows that no question is off limits. We can ask God why we are still stuck in a sin we want to be rid of, why our important prayers seem to not have been answered or why he seems to hide himself from our loved ones.
But we have to be open to his answer — even if it is what Jesus received: the cross.
Tom Hoopes is writer in
residence at Benedictine College
in Atchison, Kansas.
He is the author of What