s was our own work. We have to make the question raised by the apostles our own – but, in doing so, we have to answer it ourselves: I am Judas who betrays, I am Peter who denies, the crowd that shouts, “Barabbas, not him”. Every time I have preferred my satisfaction, my convenience, my will, my honor to Christ’s, I answer the question: “Yes, it is I”.
But, if Jesus dies because of us; he also dies for us. “By his stripes, we are healed”.
What was in essence that disease that required so drastic a cure? I am sure that most of you have heard of the disease called, arteriosclerosis – hardening of the arteries.
Perhaps, we could call the disease from which we suffered and for which Jesus suffered and died to save us, cardio sclerosis –hardening of the heart. Scriptures do not use this word, of course, but we find its equivalents in scripture: Ezekiel talks of “hearts of stone”, Jeremiah speaks of the “uncircumcised heart”, and Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy just calls it “stubbornness of heart”.
Cardio sclerosis, we could say, is a genetic disease. We inherit it from our first parents, Adam and Eve. They said “No” to God and his will. That original sin represented a turning away from God, a shutting out of God from the heart by building stone walls of self will. And while that cardio sclerosis can be said to be in our genes, as it were, it is aggravated by our own life-style choices – the times which we have ratified that “no” with our own sins. And indeed this is what hardness of hard represents in Scripture: the refusal to submit to God, to love him with one’s whole heart, to obey his law.
Sometimes, we built a stone wall around our hearts to keep God out. This certainly would describe the situation of those who call themselves “unbelievers” or those who have expelled God from their hearts by deadly sin, mortal sin. But, it also can be true that we built a stone wall to keep God in – to contain him, to keep him in place. This I think applies to many of us who have accepted Christ but our commitment is a bit lukewarm, and we like it just like that. We tacitly make God to understand what he can and cannot ask of us. Prayer yes, but as long as we don’t lose our sleep; obedience yes, but don’t abuse our availability; chastity, yes, but not to the point of depriving us of those racy movies or T.V. shows we like. In other words, this is cardio sclerosis – if not to bar God, to tame him.
In the Scriptures, the heart is the seat of the interior life, the heart represents man’s most profound “I”, his very self – his intelligence and will. The heart is the center of the religious life, the point where God speaks to us and we decide our response to God. Today’s account of the Passion ends with the veil of the temple’s sanctuary being torn in two from top to bottom. And, this Passiontide, this Holy Week, is about tearing open our hearts, breaking the stones that encircle the heart that keep us from saying yes to God.
Jesus dies for us. He is truly man – his obedience makes up for the disobedience of our first parents: the Garden of Gethsemane redeems, as it were, the Garden of Eden. The human fear and treachery of Adam and Eve meets the human trust, love and obedience of Jesus of Nazareth whom God calls his beloved one. From the Old Testament times, the People of God repeated the psalmist’s prayer: “Create in me, O God, a new heart”.
And, of course, this is why Jesus died – to give us that new heart. That heart can only be ours through our sharing in his Passion, though our own dying and rising with him from sin to the new life of grace that is the fruit of Baptism. This week, we are called to be with Jesus on Calvary – and, as we contemplate his passion, his death, may that earthquake that shook the earth around Jerusalem and caused the veil of the temple to be torn also tear at our hearts, breaking its stones, overcoming the cardio sclerosis of our human condition. Then, the cross of Christ will no longer appear to us as “folly and scandal” but, on the contrary as “strength of God and wisdom of God”. The cross becomes not an instrument of torture but a reason for our certainty, the supreme proof of the love of God for us. With the new heart formed within the pierced heart of Christ himself we can say with St. Paul: “Far be from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Palm Sunday 2006
St. James Cathedral