The Reds were in control of Barcelona, Spain, in 1937. Propaganda posters, calling for volunteers, were all over the city. One stopped Jose X. Garcia short. The background was a battle scene with miners, tanks, exploding shells, and Communist soldiers, sprawled in blood, dead. Over it a mighty finger pointed at José. The inscription was: “And you, what have you done for Communism?”
The poster hit José hard. It moved him. He became a convinced Communist. But later he thought, “What has Communists done for me?” He also remembered the churches which the Communists had burned. At the end of the war, José became a Jesuit, and a missionary in India.
Years later, Father Garcia was preparing a poster for a mission academy. He found himself putting a mission setting in the background, a poor chapel, or orphanage, neophytes, and a priest with the cross of Christ. A mighty finger pointed at the passer-by. It demanded, “And you, what have you done for Christ?”
Today we enter into the most sacred time of the Church’s liturgical year. During the Holy Week, we commemorate what Christ has done for us.
The Gospel reading today reveals in painful detail the suffering of Jesus. His love for God and for humanity was undeniable. He knew he was going to die. His death would not be a pleasant experience, but he willingly offered himself up as a sacrifice for the atonement of our sins. This sacrifice began at the Last Supper. He took the bread and offered it to his disciples saying “This is my body, which will be given for you.” Then he offered the cup to them saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.” From that moment, he stepped forward to fulfill his mission, to die and to shed his blood so that we can live.
It would not be so painful if Jesus were to be executed with chemical injection or in an electric chair like the modern executions. Instead He had to go through a long painful process of trial, accusations, humiliation and punishments. He experienced not only physical suffering, but also the suffering of being misunderstood, despaired, abandoned and belittled.
On the Mount of Olives, He realized that he would have to endure his ordeal while experiencing utter fear and abandonment. “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” He was surrounded with people, but he was really ‘alone.’ His disciples did not understand and could not grasp the gravity of the moment. Jesus knew that they meant well but they were undependable. One of them betrayed him. While he was being dragged back and forth from one judgment seat to another, Peter, the leader and the strongest one among them denied him. While he was assaulted and flogged, they went into hiding. Pilate announced His innocence, but the Jewish leaders and learned in the Law condemned him. No one was there to defend him. Pilate wanted to release Him; but people requested the release of Barabbas, a criminal.
It would be an imaginable disappointment when Jesus looked into the crowd and saw the faces of people around him. They had shouted hosanna the days before to welcome him into Jerusalem, and at the moment they demanded for his crucifixion, “Crucify him, crucify him.”
The only person who showed hope and faith in Jesus at that moment was one of the two criminals. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus promised, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
We are challenged to respond to Father Garcia’s question in the story, “And you, what have you done for Christ?”
There are different characters in the story of the Passion of Jesus. We can identify ourselves with these different characters at different stages of our life. We might be a Peter, a Judas, or one of the disciples. We might be a Pilate or Herod, a Pharisee or a Scribe, a high priest or a soldier, or one among the crowd shouting “Crucify Him!” We might be one of the weeping women following Him from a far, or a Simon of Cyrene, the unwilling bearer of the cross. We might be an insulting or a repentant thief. The best character we wish to identify with would be Jesus Christ, the faithful Servant. To bring redemption into the world, He gave to the last drop of his blood. This is what Jesus is expecting from his followers, to give ourselves for the redemption of the world till we have nothing left to give. This requires strength and fidelity. We have accepted the call and invitation to be Christians in the world. Our mission is the very mission given to Christ. When our Christian faith and religious values are being challenged and questioned, like Jesus, we must stand strong without anger or bitterness but convicted faith, hope and love. We are and must be faithful Christian servants in the world.