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Jesus’ death was the consummate act of love

Readings for March 23-24, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For On Mission

All four Gospels present a narrative of the Passion and death of Jesus. In this week’s excerpt from the Letter to the Philippians, Paul presents the Passion not as a story, but rather as a cosmic spiritual event. Here, Paul’s interest is not so much on the physical suffering of Jesus, but rather on the deep spiritual meaning of Jesus’ action. 

Paul’s discussion of the Passion broadens the perspective from historical events to analysis of the Passion as working out the redemption of humanity. In other words, the Gospels give us the historical story of the Passion while Paul shows the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the greatest love story ever told — God’s love for us and our attempt to love God.

Paul tells us that Jesus was in the form of God; he is God as the second person of the Trinity. Paul says, “He emptied himself taking the form of a slave.” His preeminence was not something to be selfishly held onto like a precious piece of jewelry. Since God loves his human creatures who struggle, God sends his Son to help us in our need.

Paul says that the Son became a slave out of love for us. A slave has no personal identity for his whole being is at the service of the master. The master here is not only the Father, but each one of us whom he came to save. He allows himself to be totally in our service in order to bring us to the Father. He is like us; he is truly human. He looks like us and has all our attributes; he eats, dresses, laughs, cries and teaches us as brothers and sisters. He humbles himself to be with us.

Paul shows us how Jesus did all this when he says that Jesus “became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Good slaves always manifest the virtue of obedience for the sake of the master, but. John 15:13 reminds us that Jesus is also our friend. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 

Since Jesus put himself totally at our service as slave and friend, his death was the consummate act of love that achieves our salvation.

Such love deserves recognition and the Father acknowledges Jesus’ love by exalting Jesus and giving him a name above all others. His obedience and love requires a response from us also. “(At) the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Paul’s presentation in the Letter to the Philippians moves away from narration of the events surrounding Jesus’ death to a description of the deepest meaning of those events. We can never forget that the Passion is not only a series of brutal actions that results in the death of a man supposed to be a malefactor. 

Paul shows us what happens because of God’s continued love for us even in our sinfulness. For this reason, the Passion is the greatest love story ever told. 

There is a lesson in all of this. It is found in the omitted introductory verse to Paul’s profound analysis, Philippians 2:5: “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.”

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator. 

The readings for Sunday, March 24, can be found at Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion | USCCB.

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