The Passion is the greatest love story

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass | March 24, 2021

As we enter Holy Week with the celebration of Palm Sunday, we always listen to one of the versions of the Passion of Jesus. We can be repelled and horrified by the terrible suffering. We can be angry at those who cause all this anguish. It is just too much to contemplate and very painful to live through these events with Jesus.

To focus our attention only on the horrors of the Passion, however, causes us to forget that the Passion is basically a love story. Jesus’ love is a central theme of all the Gospel narrations. Jesus loves his Father. Jesus loves his disciples and friends. Jesus even loves his enemies and persecutors.

When we look at the agony in the garden, we get an intimate picture of Jesus’ relationship with his Father. Even though Jesus experiences great dread during his prayer in the garden, he is not resentful or critical of his Father. He only begs that he does not have to endure the suffering. Because his love for the Father is so great and because he knows the Father’s great love, he trusts the Father with his whole heart. In this agony, we see the mutual love of the Father for the Son.

Since Jesus knew he was about to suffer, he has a final supper with those closest to him during his public ministry. During the course of the supper, he uses every opportunity to show his great love for them. This love results in teaching by word and action during the course of the meal. He washes their feet in a manner usually performed by servants. Finally, he figures out how to bestow his love on all the disciples throughout history by instituting the Eucharist as food to nourish them. Even though they will all desert him, he is faithful in his love for them.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that his followers should love their enemies. He demonstrates what this means even while they are nailing him to the cross. He prays to his Father to forgive these enemies because they do not know what they are doing. As he hangs on the cross, one of the thieves berates him while the other defends him. Because of this defense, Jesus promises the second thief life in paradise. As we read the various accounts of the Passion, we realize that every time a person manifests hatred, evil power or egoism Jesus responds by giving of himself.

Romantic love in movies and on television can be somewhat fluffy and inconsequential. Love is manifested in great suffering and, love tested by suffering, is found to be enduring and tough. In his Passion, we find Jesus loves his Father above all. He loves his followers even to this present day. He even shows us how to love our enemies. The Passion of Jesus is the greatest love story of all time.

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

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