By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 25 March, 2018
Preached at St Ninians & St Chads Parish, Perth
St Paul’s Catholic Church, Mt Lawley
Individuals who are prepared to stand up for what they believe are to be admired, especially if they do so in the face of hostility. The figure of God’s servant in the Book of Isaiah is one such person. In today’s first reading he is presented as a gentle, resolute figure who trusts and obeys God because he believes that God has called him to defend what is true and right. More than that, he knows that God will sustain him.
St Paul writes about Jesus’ obedience in his letter to the Philippians. Jesus did not cling to equality with God, but humbled himself to become an obedient human person even to the point of offering himself as a sacrifice on a cross. Throughout his life and during his death, Jesus trusted that, like Isaiah’s servant, his Father would sustain him.
Jesus remained faithful to God’s truth, challenging those worldly standards and values that were contrary to it. The Church, which is his visible presence on earth is called to do the same, and will be similarly persecuted when it does.
The story of how Jesus came to be on the Cross is told in all four gospels, and St Mark’s account gives us a number of intertwining stories of different people that come together on Calvary where they are given a new meaning.
Firstly, there is the story of the Pharisees. This lay Jewish movement defended and observed God’s laws and how they have been interpreted through history. They had saved Judaism in the past from being wiped out, so they were determined to stave off any threat to their teachings. When the crowds shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David on Palm Sunday,’ their situation was threatened, but when the crowds shouted, ‘Crucify him on Good Friday,’ they knew they had staved off another threat. The Pharisees were defending God, but they were not listening to him.
Secondly, there is the Roman story. Pontius Pilate was a ruthless political ruler whose task was to impose control in an inhospitable place in which the rebellious Jews who refused to acknowledge Roman Law, lived. Like all shrewd politicians, Pilate tried to avoid taking responsibility for Jesus’ death by washing his hands of the affair, but the reality was that only he could authorise Jesus’ death by crucifixion. When the crowds shouted, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ he knew he had achieved what none of his predecessors had achieved.
Judas has his story, as did Peter. Judas thought he knew the best way to make Jesus claim his kingdom was to force him into action, but he became a pawn in the hands of the authorities. When he knew he had failed and could see no hope, he did what many people in this situation do, he took his own life.
Peter perhaps thought he could somehow rescue Jesus from the courtyard of the High priest, but when he was backed into a corner, he crumbled and saved his own skin by denying any association with Jesus. In contrast to Judas he stayed with the other disciples and with them experienced the joy of God’s forgiveness and learned the cost of discipleship.
All these stories and those of others, who played a role in the Passion of Jesus, come together on the Cross. The Cross of Christ stands in judgment on them and the world, because Jesus on the Cross is the visible expression of God’s love for his creation and people.
For those who cannot recognise God’s love shining out of the Cross, it is simply a symbol of brutality and death, but it is the assurance of new life for those who do.
This week we walk alongside Jesus on the road to Calvary, so open your hearts, minds and souls to God’s grace so that next Sunday will be a celebration, not only of Jesus being raised from the dead, but a celebration of the eternal life we have with and through him.
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.