Ecce Homo ("Behold the Man"), Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Pilate presenting a scourged Jesus to the people of Jerusalem, painted in 1871.
At the procession with palms, Gospel: Lk 19:28-4
Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
"It is done. We have judged our God and have ordered Him
We will not have Christ with us moreHe is in the way.”
Those lines open Paul Claudel’s poem, “The Way of the Cross”, a lyrical, moving
reflection on the fourteen Stations. Claudel, who is one of my favorite poets,
had a profound love and knowledge of the Bible (he wrote a book titled, The
Essence of the Bible). His poetry has often
opened up new and wonderful perspectives in my study of sacred Scripture.
that Christ “is in the way,” Claudel emphasizes the two choices before each one
of us: to embrace Jesus as The Way or to try to remove him from our way.
Those choices are evident throughout today’s reading from St. Luke’s Gospel.
There is, in this reading, a series of gifts offered by Jesus as he, the King
of kings, makes his way to his throne, the Cross. These gifts involve choices,
not only on the part of man, but also on the part of the God-man.
In the Upper Room, reclining with the apostles, Jesus took
the bread and blessed it, and said, “This is my body, which will be given for
you…” He took the cup, and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which
will be shed for you.” This, of course, is the gift of the Eucharist, “the
source and summit of the Christian life,” the Body and Blood which nourishes
the sons and daughters of God. This gift was offered along with the gift of the
priesthood, through which this perfect and holy sacrifice has been perpetually
offered (CCC, 611).
Yet one of the Twelve rejected the gifts. Judasgrasping and
greedyhad spitefully judged Jesus and believed he was now in the way. Judas
refused to accept and be part of a kingdom rooted in self-sacrifice, suffering,
and redemptive love. “But woe,” said Jesus, “to that man by whom he is
The gift of the cup of the New Covenant, the Catechism remarks, “is afterwards accepted by him from his
Father's hands in his agony in the garden at Gethsemani…” (par. 612). This gift
of Jesusoffering himself, his fears, and his horror of deathis a profound
mystery, for it is bound up in mystery of the Incarnation. The second person of
the Trinity, St. Paul states in today’s Epistle, had “emptied himself, taking
the form of a slave” and had “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point
of death…” The first Adam had failed the test of love in the Garden of Eden
when faced with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But the new Adam,
whose sweat in the Garden of Gethsemani “became like drops of blood,” humbly
embraced the torturous trial of the tree of Golgotha. The anguish endured in
private prayer in the Garden would soon be a public lamentation: “My God, my
God, why have you abandoned me?”
The third gift is that of love, redemption, salvation,
reconciliation. It is the gift of the Cross, the gift of the Incarnate Word who
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. “The shame of his
passion was not the fruit of his own will,” wrote St. Cyril of Alexandria, “but
he still consented to undergo it that he might save the earth.” Arms stretched
wide, Jesus embraced the world. He embraced the thief, who asked to be
remembered in Paradise. He embraced the centurion, who gloried God. He embraces
each one of us as we kneel in silence and contemplate those humble words of
trust and filial devotion: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Jesus, for many people, is in the way. But for those who gaze upon the gift of the
Cross, Jesus is the Way. In the beautiful words of Claudel:
“There is no cross
of our living where His body will not fit.
There is no sin of ours for which He
has not a wound.”
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the March 28, 2010, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)