It has become a tradition that on Palm Sunday every Catholic Church becomes a theater where all the inhabitants play a role in the reading of Christ’s Passion. The only trouble is, I don’t like my part. Why do I have to be among the bad guys, saying things like “Crucify him!” and “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” But that’s the challenge with playing out the events leading to Christ’s passion, trial, torture and death. Nobody likes their parts—not even the people who originally played them.
Peter didn’t want to think of himself as a coward. Judas certainly didn’t want to think of himself as a betrayer. Even Pilate didn’t want to have Jesus’ blood on his hands. And then there’s the star: Jesus himself. Even he took the part as our savior reluctantly—“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.”
But Jesus knew he had to stick to the script as it was written centuries before by his father through the prophets. Nobody in the original drama understood their own motivation. Why, the disciples must have wondered, would the master ask them to fetch an ass? Because that’s the vehicle by which Jesus had to make his entrance! As Matthew wrote, “This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
His disciples wanted their master to play a stronger part. He was their King, after all, and he should enter Jerusalem in triumph to establish his kingdom! Certainly the people wanted a strong leader to take command and stand up to the Romans. But that’s not how it was meant to play out. Jesus knew humanity had to act their parts as written.
And so, every Palm Sunday you and I are required to say lines we don’t feel comfortable reciting. We might feel a bit jealous of our pastor, who gets to be the hero, betrayed and abandoned by his people yet saving their souls at the end. We the people don’t feel the motivation behind our roles. We would never think of doing such a thing to our beloved teacher. “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” That was the line of Judas and the rest of the disciples at the Last Supper, but it was also the same feeling that motivated the jubilant crowd waving palms as Jesus made his entrance. If they would have been told how their part in the Passion would change as soon as Jesus entered Jerusalem, they might have said the same thing—“That can’t be me!” Or they might have stolen Peter’s line: “Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be.”
So as you read your lines this Passion Sunday, put yourself in the heads of the people we’re playing. You may not like what they said, but they played their parts as written. As a result, they got a happy ending that neither they nor their descendants deserve. For that we should remember to thank our Director.