Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 26:14–27:66
One of my favorite things about being a woman is the way in which our universal experience of both heartache and joy can connect our hearts even when we don’t know each other well. I just had that kind of an experience with a woman long dead, one who knows nothing of the daily complexities of the 21st century, yet nevertheless would understand the ache within a mother who is longing for a miracle in the life of her child. I was at a parish in Santa Monica, California, and a beautiful mosaic of St. Monica ministered to me deeply. She knew what it was to entrust her child to the Lord, letting go of control and praying fervently.
That mingling of an expression of pain and trust is what we see in Jesus in today’s beautiful and long gospel. This Sunday’s readings encompass Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem on the donkey, His passion, and His death on the cross. The best thing we can do to prepare for Palm Sunday is to read the passage slowly and prayerfully. As Peter Kreeft noted, it’s best to let it speak for itself, richly and eloquently, because “commenting on it would be like muffling the sound of a bell by piling snow on it. The best reflection on this Gospel is silence.”
So while acknowledging the truth of what Kreeft wrote, I ask for your indulgence as I reflect a little on what was happening as Jesus suffered on the cross. Specifically, I’d like to ask, what do we do with Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46) Is this a cry of reproach against the Father or a sin of despair? No. It is a cry of trust.
Jesus, like other faithful Jews of His day, had memorized countless Psalms. His words, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me,” were a quote from Psalm 22. If you were to read Psalm 22, you would see that it ends triumphantly. And Christ, in citing the first passages, was, in a sense citing the whole Psalm. These words of His from the cross were not a cry of despair. They were rather a sign of His suffering and trust. They were a prayer in which He took the message of Psalm 22 and made it His own.
Jesus used those words to express His feelings at that moment—pain and trust in God. Yes, Jesus felt abandoned, but He knew He was not being rejected or reproved. As a result, Jesus’ cry was one of trust rather than reproach because He knew that God the Father is not an arbitrary God.
There’s a children’s book called Harold and the Purple Crayon that can help illustrate how pain and trust can co-exist in our hearts. In this book, Harold has a magical possession, a purple crayon. Anything that he draws comes to life. If Harold wants a car, he just draws it, and it becomes real. If he wants a lollipop, he only needs to draw it, and it appears in his hand. Imagine what sorts of things you would draw if you had a magical crayon like that one. And deep down, isn’t this what we want? We want to hold the purple crayon and create the best circumstances possible. We work to that end, we plan, and we do all we can to achieve a life as close to our ideal as possible. Because we like to be the ones in charge, we spend our lives doing all we can to make our purple crayon dreams come true.
Then, in the midst of all our striving, God looks at us with love, and He asks us to hand Him our purple crayons. Hand Him the purple crayon? That seems crazy. Because who knows what He might draw. He might draw things that involve pain. So we hold on tightly to our purple crayons. As the Creator of the universe, He knows how to draw the most beautiful pictures and, as the Author of life, writes a better story than we ever could. But we hold onto the purple crayon, fearful that if we give it to Him, He might draw something that causes us to suffer. Or we may give Him the purple crayon for a little while, but then we take it back. Both the back and forth and the clinging to the crayon rob us of more peace than we can imagine.
Peace comes in the letting go. It comes when you offer God your cry of trust. It comes, as a gift, when you bow your head before the only One who can fix what is broken and admit you are helpless. It comes when you lift your empty, weary hands and ask Him to carry you. It comes when you stop trying so hard to hold it all together and ask Him to take the wheel. It comes when you invite God into your mess. And when you do, He gets down to your eye level. He wipes your face, cleanses your wounds, puts a balm over all that festers, and then envelopes you in His arms. He cradles your head and rocks you back and forth. He whispers in your ear: it’s all going to be ok. Behold, I make all things new.
With you on the journey,
Food for thought or journaling…
In what area of life are you clutching your purple crayon, afraid to hand it to God?
Dear Lord, I know that peace comes through the letting go, through offering You my cry of trust. Help me to have just a little more courage than fear so that I can entrust this [person, desire, dream, hope, concern…] to You. May I remember that You are faithful to all Your promises. You are worthy of my trust. Amen.
 Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul: Reflections on the Mass Readings Cycle A (Park Ridge, IL: Word on Fire, 2002), 255.