Sunday Reflection- Palm Sunday
In the old liturgy, before Vatican II, the reading of the Passion was greeted with total silence. There was no homily. Even the concluding acclamation: “This is the gospel of the Lord” was omitted. On a day like this, I sometimes feel that the most eloquent response to the word of God we have proclaimed is silence. Even the best of homilies could be a distraction from the deep meditation in which many of us find ourselves at the end of the story of the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. But then also, a homily might be useful to direct and focus our meditation in the right direction.
As the early Christians looked back so many events of Jesus’ Passion took on new meaning. As Jesus celebrated the Passover with the apostles and changed the Jewish prayers over the bread and the cup into different prayers – the prayers we now have during the consecration of the Mass – we can imagine that they wondered what was happening. When Jesus said, “Take it, this is my body” (Mark 14:22), surely it was only looking back afterwards that they realized Jesus fulfilled this at his death on Calvary when he gave his body for us. When Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is to be poured out for many” (Mark 14:24) surely it was looking back afterwards that they saw this fulfilled at Jesus’ death on Calvary when he poured out blood to form the new covenant for the forgiveness of our sins.
That reminds us that every time we come to Mass we come to Calvary where he gives his body for us and his blood is poured out for us. It the same sacrifice on Calvary, not a new one, extended through time to us now.
Each year we turn our attention to Jesus and his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We recount how quickly the crowds turned on him, as we act out the crowd’s part in the Gospel by shouting, “Crucify Him!” Unfortunately, we see ourselves as mere actors playing a part. We ask, “How could they do that to Him?” while we hasten to add, “I would never have turned on Him
like that!” As the early Christians looked back so many events of Jesus’ Passion meant so much. As we look at the Passion of Jesus so many events also take on new meaning for us. We see a whole host of characters who each had a role to play that eventually led to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Think of Judas. When he met Jesus in Gethsemane he kissed Jesus (Mark 14:45) but it was a deceitful and treacherous kiss. It was not a kiss of love because Judas’ heart was far from Jesus. How often we simply judge and condemn him, in fact, his is the name we used for the worst of traitors. How often have we quickly dismissed Judas, while at the same time patting ourselves on the back for not being like him, because we are him.
Each year we speak of Judas. Judas traveled with Jesus, ate with Him, and heard every word that Jesus preached. Judas’ heart was stirred by everything he witnessed, but Jesus was not what Judas wanted. Jesus chose humility, not glory. Jesus chose to identify with the poor and not to accept a crown. Judas thought he knew better. What about us? We have heard the same words that Judas heard Jesus speak, and we have been stirred by the same Spirit in the world. We repeat Jesus’ words every Sunday, but we, like Judas, still think we know best.
We continue to make ourselves the center of our own universe, telling the world how it would be so much better if it did things our way. We betray the Church and it’s teaching for so many things that sound better. We sing our hymns of praise just as the crowd sang, “Hosanna in the highest.” We strike our breasts as the Body of Christ-the King—is raised before us. We show up for the parade, and we think we have done enough. We can love one hour in church, but we do not like to have anything expected of us. How many friends have we praised on our conversations and then condemned them in the next? How well do we support our Church? Do we stay loyal, or do we find excuses to condemn and withhold support?
Think of Peter. Peter promised that even if all lost faith in Jesus he would not (Mark 14:49) yet when Peter was in the courtyard of the high priest’s house he denied Jesus three times when he was put under pressure (Mark 14:68,70,71). In the Greek of Mark’s Gospel Peter’s third denial is ambiguous and could even mean that Peter cursed Jesus (Mark 14:71).
When we sin, is it not because of a lapse of faith, because our faith is weak? Each year we tell of Peter’s betrayal and his cowardly refusal to admit being a follower of Jesus. We ask “How could he have been so close to Jesus then tell such a lie?” We are Peter. We know Jesus—but when gathered around our campfires (water coolers, break rooms, board rooms, or family rooms)
how many times and in how many ways do we deny knowing the Lord? It has happened to all of us that someone had mentioned our Catholicism just before telling the off-colored joke or taking the inappropriate step, and we respond, Don’t let that bother you, go ahead.” We eat with the Lord and the Eucharist, and before the cock crows, we have denied Him again.
Think of Pilate. We have condemned Pilate. We have vilified him for years. Pilate knew the truth all along. He knew Jesus was guilty of nothing. We even compare some of our politicians to Pilate saying their desire to please the voters is just as bad as Pilate’s similar wish. We say that they will sacrifice anything—or anyone—for their political gain. Yet, we are Pilate. We please our friends too often at the expense of our faith, our values, and our morals. We are willing to risk losing Christ to avoid losing friends or displeasing family members. We come to the altar pleased with ourselves, but sometimes all our heart brings is sour wine, not sweet praise.
Think of the Bystanders. The bystanders around Jesus heaped insults on him reminding us of the insults heaped on the Church today. “Some began to spit on him. They blindfolded him and struck him and said to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards greeted him with blows.” (Mark14:65)
Think of Simon the Cyrenian- Jesus founded the Church; he said to Peter, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church” (Matt 16:18).
If we love Jesus, surely we will love the Church. St. Paul tells us the Church is the Body of Christ (Rom 12:4-5; 1 Cor 10:16-17; 12:12-31) and he learned this in a very dramatic way on the road to Damascus persecuting Christians when Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?…I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:4-5) We see the weaknesses and failures of individuals in the Church, which is an opportunity to pray for them and forgive them and pray that the Church will become what it is called to be, but the Church is a gift from Jesus to us. If we reject the Church we reject Jesus. In the end, “How beautiful is the account of Jesus’ Passion?” Because the Passion of Jesus was so revered it is believed the Passion accounts in the Gospels were the first parts of the Gospels to be written. The early Christians were so eager to preserve the account of our salvation that they put the Passion of Jesus in writing quickly. The image of Jesus on the cross is not there to scare us but to show us how much he loves us. He is not there to show them what would happen to us if we fail; but to show us that he has already paid the penalty for our sins. He is not dying on the cross for what he has done but for what we have done. there can be no doubt; because Jesus loves us, He died for us. “He died for us:” Many of us have heard this phrase so many times that it now carries with it neither the shock of someone dying on account of what we have done nor the good news of our being delivered from death.
For us to hear this message again today as for the first time, the story of a man who literally died for the misdeeds of his brother might help. Two brothers lived together in the same apartment. The elder brother was an honest, hard-working and God-fearing man and the younger a dishonest, gun-totting, substance-abusing rogue. Many a night the younger man would come back into the apartment late, drunk and with a lot of cash and the elder brother would spend hours pleading with him to mend his ways and live a decent life. But the young man would have none of it. One night the junior brother runs into the house with a smoking gun and blood-stained clothes. “I killed a man,” he announced. In a few minutes the house was surrounded by police and the two brothers knew there was no escape. “I did not mean to kill him,” stammered the young brother, “I don’t want to die.” By now the police were knocking at the door. The senior brother had an idea. He exchanged his clothes with the blood-stained clothes of his killer brother. The police arrested him, tried him and condemned him to death for murder. He was killed and his junior brother lived. He died for his brother.
As the early Christians looked back so many events of Jesus’ Passion meant so much. As we look at the Passion of Jesus so many events also take on new meaning for us. We see a whole host of characters who each had a role to play that eventually led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Once we realize that it was our sins that crucified Jesus we can see these different characters in the Passion representing our sins, which caused Jesus to die. Let us remember the love of the Lord for us, which caused him to suffer for our sins and let us turn to the Lord in love. May our meditation on Jesus’ Passion this week encourage us to renew our lives with Jesus and leave sin behind to rise with his new life at Easter. This week we are beginning is indeed a Holy Week.
And while we may not gather as a community to celebrate publicly, let us all try to keep it as a Holy Week, watching the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night. If the Passion of Jesus is to change us, we must recognize our role in it. How can we change our hearts if we cannot see our sins? If we do not see ourselves as we are, we will never become who we should be.……………..+JMJ……………… Fr. Bob!!!