Last year, I wrote an article called Personalizing the Passion. After much thought, I decided to follow up on that article with a slightly different twist. This time, let’s take a look at some of the characters in the Passion, and then examine ourselves to see which one(s) we most closely represent in our daily lives.
Perhaps the most famous of all of the “bad guys” in the Passion narrative is Pontius Pilate, the Roman Procurator (Governor) of Judea. He had the power to either free Jesus or to crucify Him. The gospels tell us that Pilate thought Jesus to be innocent, yet he caved in to the pressure from the Jews, who threatened to riot.
We need to examine ourselves: Are “go-along to get-along” Catholics, or instead do we stand tall for Jesus and His Church? Pilate is the first “I’m personally opposed to this, but I will vote the other way” kind of politician. He epitomizes “Catholic” politicians who support abortion and so-called “homosexual marriage” at the same time they present themselves for Holy Communion on Sundays.
Herod was the King of Israel, although an illegitimate king. Herod was an Edomite, or a descendant of Esau. God’s blessing had previously fallen upon Esau’s twin brother Jacob rather than on Esau, so Herod had no power from God on his side. Jesus is the true King of Israel, as he is a descendant of Judah, one of Jacob’s sons. Herod had earlier murdered John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, because of lust and peer pressure from his party guests. He also ordered Jesus to “prove” that He really was God.
We need to examine ourselves to see if we do evil things because of lust and peer pressure from worldly friends. We also need to ask ourselves if we walk by faith rather than by sight when it comes to believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Barabbas was the insurrectionist who was freed by Pilate in the place of Jesus. “Barabbas” means “Son of the father (i.e. Bar Abbas). It seems that the Jews chose the wrong “Son of the Father” to be freed that day, as that is exactly who Jesus is.
We are all Barabbas in a sense, because we are all set free from our sins by the sacrifice of Jesus.
The Bible tells us that Judas was not only a traitor, but a thief. He loved to pal around with the Pharisees, thinking that somehow that would make him as important as they were. He sold out his Master for thirty pieces of silver, and later regretted it, but without repentance. He felt so bad about all of this that he hanged himself.
Do we sell out our family and friends for money? Are we the type of person who likes to hobnob with the rich and famous, somehow thinking that that will make us happy? Do we just regret our sinfulness, or do we truly repent of it and ask Jesus for forgiveness? If Judas had done that, he would have been forgiven just like Peter was, and would not have committed suicide.
The Jewish High Priest that year was Caiphas. He was more concerned about Jewish traditions and power than he was about love and forgiveness, which is at the very heart of Jewish theology. He was so convinced in his mind that he was right and that Jesus was wrong, that he failed to believe in Him, even though Jesus had performed miracles such as raising the dead, healing the lepers, and bringing sight to the blind.
Do we think that we are holier than everyone else because we love the Tridentine Mass and others don’t? Are we the type of person who is convinced that everyone else is wrong and we are always right in everything? Do we ignore signs in favor of personal ego?
The Centurion was the leader of a group of 100 soldiers. He once asked Jesus to heal one of his servants, who was dying. When Jesus offered to go to his house (this was forbidden by Jewish law, because by definition, a Gentile’s house was “unclean”), the Centurion told Jesus to just say the word, and his servant would be healed. As a result, Jesus said that he had never seen such faith in Israel, which was a huge statement, considering that the Centurion was a Gentile, not a Jew. We still utter the words of the Centurion at Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” Later on, at the crucifixion, the Centurion proclaimed that Jesus was truly the Son of God.
The Centurion was just a man doing his job, but unlike Caiphas, he had eyes to see and ears to hear. In all likelihood, he had seen Jesus performing a miracle, or at least heard about it from one of his trusted soldiers. Do we have eyes to see and ears to hear when evil or good presents itself to us? Are we capable of changing our minds if we see or hear wonderful things which were previously not understood by us?
The Good Thief
The good thief on the cross suffered a lot, although probably not as much as Jesus, who was severely tortured before he was crucified. The good thief realized that his execution was deserved, and said that he was getting the just punishment for his crime. But unlike Judas, who also regretted his sins, the good thief also repented, asking Jesus for forgiveness, and also to “remember me in your kingdom.” (Note that the term “remember” used here is much more than asking Jesus to go to heaven and call to mind the good thief. Here the term “remember” means to be present with the Lord in paradise.)
The good thief on the cross repented during the very last minutes of his life, and became the first human to enter paradise, after Jesus opened the doors to it (the door had been closed to humans since the sin of Adam). This example of Divine Mercy shows us all that there is mercy even for the worst sinner, even at the very last minute of life. This should remind us all that the Divine Mercy of Jesus is there for us all, if we repent, confess, and are sorry for our sins. The good thief on the cross represents the sheep at the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).
The Bad Thief
The bad thief on the cross suffered a lot as well, but died unrepentant. He even told Jesus to “prove himself,” by coming down from the cross. He belonged to the “walk by sight, not by faith” crowd.
Do we have to see in order to believe? Jesus told St. Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” If we have to see in order to believe, then that is certainly not faith. The bad thief on the cross represents the goats at the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46).
Longinus was the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Christ with his spear. He was a soldier who was doing his duty. After the piercing, blood and water (representing Baptism and the Eucharist) flowed forth from the side of Christ. Tradition tells us that Longinus converted to Catholicism after this event.
We pierce the side of Christ when we commit mortal sins, but thanks to the life-giving sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist, we are brought back into the grace of Jesus Christ, which flows like living water from Him into our souls.
The Scribes and Pharisees
These men were the educated religious leaders of the day, who were so hard-hearted and blind that they couldn’t see their own Messiah standing right in front of them.
Sometimes, we are so puffed up with our own spiritual pride and superior knowledge of Church teachings and traditions that we become blinded to the fact that Christian rule #1 is that we MUST love one another in order to be saved.
The Blessed Virgin Mary
The Mother of God knew that her Son was the Messiah, and loved Him infinitely. She stood beside Him no matter what. Simeon said that a sword pierced her soul so that the hearts of many would be laid bare.
We, too, know that Jesus is the Messiah. Do we stand beside Mary, who represents the Church, and invoke her blessing no matter what? Our souls will be laid bare and come to Jesus faster than any other way if we have a true devotion to Mary, just like she had for her son. Her mission, then and now, is to bring Jesus into the world, and that should be our mission as well.
Mary Magdalene was a former prostitute who had seven devils cast out of her by Christ. She then lovingly gave her life to Jesus and stood by him at the cross.
Those of us who have been forgiven our sins by Christ need to lovingly give our lives to Christ and stand by Him, even if our crosses get very heavy.
St. John was the youngest apostle, and apparently the bravest one, as he stood by Christ at the cross. Jesus gave John His mother to take into his home to care for.
We need to stand by Christ with His cross continually, but especially at Holy Communion, so that like John, we will also take the Mother of God into our homes for spiritual protection and for guidance in times of trouble.
St. Peter was the head of the apostles, but he chose to deny Christ three times before the crucifixion, due to cowardice. He fled the cross and hid during the crucifixion. After the resurrection, Jesus asked him three times if he loved him, and then to “feed His sheep.”
Those of us who are heads of our families should never deny Christ by not going to Sunday Mass, and we should set the example in our families by being there for them for all important occasions, even if they are unpleasant. We need to answer “YES” to Jesus daily when He asks us if we love Him, by boldly speaking out for Him when evil is present. We need to feed our families, friends, and enemies with the truth of His Gospel when the opportunity presents itself.
May the peace of Christ this Easter season be with us all!