The life and death of Jesus of Nazareth

by Fr. Shay Cullen

| Photo by Hugo Fergusson on Unsplash

Palm Sunday recalls the triumphant entry of Jesus of Nazareth into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. It was a regular visit of Jesus and his apostles to the great celebration of Passover. However, others presented it as the triumphant arrival of the Messiah, who would restore the kingship of David and deliver the Jewish people from their oppressors. Jesus of Nazareth never claimed to be the Messiah and told his disciples not to call him that, but others did.

It was the start of an incredible week of human, personal, and political drama that would change the world and bring Jesus’s great challenge to all people. He challenged people daily to accept or reject him and the great spiritual and human values he taught. He inspired and aroused faith in people.

That FAITH is to believe that goodness and justice will overcome evil and for believers to do good and oppose evil. Many may remain indifferent and frozen in apathy, but they cannot ignore this man’s influence on humankind. Jesus of Nazareth’s challenge to the whole world was for each individual to participate in a spiritual revolution together in solidarity to change the world from bad to good. His disciples at the time did not understand it.

Jesus, in fact, claimed no title at all. Naming Jesus as the Messiah came after feeding five thousand people in the desert (John 6:14-15) by inspiring the people to share their food with those who had none, indicating Jesus’s powerful influence among the people.

The more politicized followers of Jesus saw that social experience of food sharing as a chance to use Jesus and make him part of their political agenda to proclaim Jesus Messiah and king. He could not prevent them from using his popularity for their own ends, with which he disagreed.

We can read what happened in John Chapter 6, verses 14 -15. “Seeing this miracle that Jesus had performed, the people there said: “Surely this is the prophet who was to come into the world. Jesus knew they could forcefully seize him to make him king, so he went off to the hills by himself.”

Jesus arrived in the capital, resisting the efforts to make him “king” or Messiah. Yet political forces were at work to try to make him king. Radicals like the Zealots hoped he would lead a revolution and overthrow the Roman occupation. (It did happen 66 years later.)

For others, the Messiah was a spiritual leader who would replace the dictatorship of the high priest Caiphas and his cronies, who colluded with the oppressive Romans to rule Palestine. Jesus would restore the kingship of David, of whom Jesus was a descendant.

Some of his apostles believed he would be given power and glory to rule in Jerusalem. Two apostles, James and John, begged to be appointed ministers, one on his right and one on his left no less (Mark 10:35-45). They had utterly misunderstood Jesus and his mission. They thought it would be a political kingdom of this world while Jesus was teaching a spiritual revolution of the heart and mind where all would be servants to the poor and each other.

He challenged authority, was fearless and unafraid, and sought no honor or prestige. He served others as a humble servant, washed his disciples’ feet, cooked their food, and served them at the table. He called them friends, not servants and taught them all he knew with wisdom, support, and friendship.

This misunderstanding had severe repercussions. The word was likely passed around the city that Jesus would be installed as king. Judas likely spread the rumor among the advisors to the High Priest. The High Priest, the elders, the Sanhedrin, and the Pharisees were all bitter enemies of Jesus since he challenged their hypocrisy and disturbed their corrupt practices of using the Temple courtyard as a trading place for their money-making businesses. The news spread that Jesus would be made king. They decided he had to be rid of.

They judged and condemned him as a subversive seeking power. They used their decision to bring the accusation and Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. He asked Jesus, “Are you King of the Jews”? Jesus asked, “Does this question come from you, or have others told you about me?” In the end, that was the charge that led to his execution and death.

The disciples’ dreams fell apart; all felt tremendous guilt afterward. Judas committed suicide. Later, they had revelations and a deeper understanding that what Jesus established and aroused in their hearts and minds was an ideal, a conviction that they could win people to the side of goodness and truth and persuade them to embrace a spiritual kingdom based on faith and action, a society where respect for the dignity of everyone is present, a society built on rights, equality, justice and love of neighbor.

Jesus was an extraordinary human being. If we want to know God, we should get to know Jesus of Nazareth. He was the son of a carpenter but born a knowledgeable human, even a genius. His life was threatened from the day he was born. His loving parents protected him. They became a refugee family that migrated to Egypt. He escaped a childhood massacre like what is happening in Palestine today.

He grew to be a man of profound insight, understanding, and honesty, and his integrity was unassailable. He was self-confident, empowered, independent, self-assured, and dependent on no one. He had deep solidarity with the poor and the exploited, the hungry and the unemployed. He gave children the highest place in his spiritual kingdom and this world, giving women the highest respect and dignity. He gave severe penance to child abusers and forgave the repentant.

He challenged authority, was fearless and unafraid, and sought no honor or prestige. He served others as a humble servant, washed his disciples’ feet, cooked their food, and served them at the table. He called them friends, not servants and taught them all he knew with wisdom, support, and friendship.

Ultimately, they never understood him; one betrayed him, and the others ran away when he was arrested. He made friends with the outcasts and sex workers. He challenged the rich to repent and share their wealth. Above all, he was a man of great compassion and empathy. He was falsely accused and condemned to death and executed a totally innocent man.

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