Over the past few weeks, the Church has been reading John's gospel at daily Mass. As the gospel progresses, Jesus enters into greater and greater conflict with chief priests of the temple, the scribes, and some of the Pharisees. As early as chapter six at the end of the "Bread of Life" discourse, we hear how many who had accompanied him "returned to their former way of life" because "they could not accept this teaching." There are numerous moments when the temple officials try to arrest Jesus but they were unable to do so "because his hour had not yet come." Finally, it is the raising of Lazarus from the dead that is the last straw for Jesus' opponents because so many "had begun to believe in him.
I think it is safe to say that John portrays Jesus' path to the Cross as a long one that stretches out over a much longer expanse of time than just one "holy week." Jesus knows very early on what is to come. Way back in chapter 3 of the gospel, Jesus testifies "just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” He is very much aware of the type of death that awaits him and the suffering that he will endure.
In the Passion which we have just heard, he also finds himself abandoned by most who follow him. He stands alone, with no one to speak on his behalf, in front of Annas, then Caiphas, then Pilate. What it must have been like to look around, to know that one is innocent, to know the horrible death that lies ahead, and to see nothing but the faces of those who seek your death! Unlike the moment when earlier in the gospel Jesus stood alone with the woman caught in adultery and says, "Woman, where have they all gone? Is there no one here to condemn you?"and she, though guilty, is spared her life, now he, Jesus, the innocent one, is completely surrounded by those who are more than ready to condemn him.
We know from other gospel accounts that Jesus did not face the prospect of suffering and death without fear or second thoughts. In the garden of Gethsemane, he asked God to “take this cup away from me.” Yet, to paraphrase the words of Isaiah, he did not turn away. He gave his back to those who beat him, his face he did not shield from blows and spitting. Jesus did not turn away from the path he had chosen, even though he could have. He moved forward, keeping faith in God, trusting in God’s ultimate plan for him, even when he was alone and all seemed so dark. He freely stayed on the path of the long road to Calvary.
But, as we know, this long path of death did not end there but lead to the empty tomb of the resurrection and Christ's ultimate victory over death. As St. Paul wrote, “we know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.” Because Christ chose to walk the road that he did, he opened the gates of heaven for Himself and all who believe in Him. In the end, Jesus chose the right path. The road to Calvary became the road to eternal life.
"No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown." (William Penn)
Each of us has to make choices in our life, choose the road that we would walk. We do so not knowing where it will ultimately lead and also knowing we leave other possibilities behind. The poet, Robert Frost, in one of his most beloved poems, “The Road not Taken,” speaks with a bit of melancholy when he looks back at his life and wonders what lay down the road he did not choose:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
“I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Surely with the heart of Christian faith, these words of the poet can take on further meaning. Those of us follow the path of Christ, a road that increasingly in this day and age is “less traveled by,” have chosen to walk with Christ and “that has made all the difference” for us. It is not an easy road to follow. It is not without sacrifice, hardship, and scars. Even after his resurrection, Christ still bore the wounds of his Cross. But like Christ’s own path, it is not without the ultimate reward that we commemorate in these sacred days – our salvation, the victory of life over death for those who stay the path.