by Jamie Myrose
I get weird looks sometimes when I say that Palm Sunday is my favorite day of the year. While I do think that part of it is that I am not typically at Boston College to celebrate Easter with my friends and this is our substitute, I think another, more significant part of my affection for the day is the message behind the day. Palm Sunday is a day of forgiveness.
As many of my stories do, I jump to my Catechism classroom for a moment. My second graders this week were shocked when we recounted to them the Passion of Christ. After learning all year about the kindness of Jesus, they could not believe that people were so “mean and very rude” to him. More than that, my classroom said that the people who killed Jesus must have been the worst people who ever lived. But what I needed to remind them of was that the people who put Jesus to death were not the worst people in the world. They were just people.
The Mass readings chosen for Holy Week through Easter set up a juxtaposition between Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. During Palm Sunday, we hear the story of Judas planning and succeeding in betraying Jesus. What we often do not hear is Judas’ overwhelming guilt over his sins (Matt 27:3-10). Feeling remorse for his actions, Judas tries to return the blood money. Being unable to do so, Judas hangs himself.
Meanwhile, we also hear Peter’s betrayal (Mark 14:66-72) on Palm Sunday. After affirming his faith in Jesus just a few verses earlier, Peter denies even having known Jesus. When Jesus was in his most desperate need for friends, Peter abandoned him out of fear. Why then do we hear just two weeks later (during Year C) Peter’s affirmation of his love for Jesus (John 21:1-19)? Once again, we hear these readings because the message of Holy Week and Easter is one of God’s eternal forgiveness.
Each man is faced with the gravity of his actions, but their responses are different. Judas concludes that since Jesus is dead, his sins are unforgivable and thus hangs himself in desolation. He does not live to see the Resurrection, which would prove otherwise. Conversely, Peter does not fall to desolation but rather lives with his guilt until Jesus asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” and he can affirm that yes, he does love Jesus, more than anything else.
What is the message that we are to take here? While Judas and Peter’s sins are terrible, they are not something completely other. They were made by ordinary, sinful people, and just because we have not physically handed over Jesus for 30 pieces of silver does not mean that we are not guilty of betraying him in other ways. The mocking of the chief priests and scribes, “He who saved others cannot even save himself,” (Mark 15:31) is an apt reminder that Jesus did not come to save himself; he came to save us.
I love Palm Sunday because I love Easter, but we cannot have the hope of the Resurrection until we have the suffering and death of Jesus. Our preparations during the Lenten season have culminated in this: how will we answer come Easter time when Jesus asks us, “Do you love me?”