PALM SUNDAY – YEAR C
28th March, 2010
One night a man went to a pub for a drink. Later he saw two other men arguing seriously and it began to get worse. Then one of them pulled a knife from his pocket and was about to stab the other. Luckily he was disarmed. Many TV films or movies today have a lot of violence in them. Even the struggle between good and evil in them is very violent. Does ‘popular culture’ in East or West see no alternative to the use of force for asserting rights or overcoming malice?
The ancient time into which Jesus came was similar to our own time. Large armies carried out the will of emperors and kings over smaller armies and kingdoms.
As we begin Passion Week today we will see the confrontation between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees coming to a climax. He was witnessing to the ways of God which were very different to the usual way of dominating others by violence and battles. And he expected that his followers would do likewise. Unfortunately some gospel texts can seem to say that violence is alright. One such text is that of Luke 22.36 when Jesus says, in view of the oncoming confrontation with those determined to condemn and kill him, ‘if you have no sword sell your cloak and buy one’. The disciples take this literally but what Jesus is really saying according to scripture scholars is ‘prepare seriously for the coming events, especially by prayer’, as he did in the Garden of Gethsemene. It certainly was not an incitement to violence or to armed force, but that their very lives would be at stake.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus riding on a donkey is proclaimed by the crowds as ‘the king who comes in the name of the Lord’. Certainly not a king who was coming with a powerful army. Yet five days later he is being mocked, scourged and crucified. Probably some in the crowd on Palm Sunday were shouting for his death only a number of days later. It raises the question for each of us – are we as faithful in following Jesus in time of trial, temptation and suffering as we are when life is going well for us? Do we pray to thank God as much in good times as we do when we ask for help when life is difficult and painful?
The focus of today’s celebration and indeed for all the readings of Holy Week is on Jesus, the faithful one. During all this week we are celebrating his fidelity not only when he was being praised and honoured by the crowd as a king but also during the terrible times of suffering and crucifixion. The first reading today is from the prophet Isaiah. He foretells the mysterious One who is to come whom we know now as Jesus, by saying ‘I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked at my beard, my face I did not shield from blows and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced’. This was exactly what Jesus did. He trusted that his Father would strengthen him to be faithful to the end especially when suffering. The Good News is that God our Father will strengthen us also.
In the accounts of the Passion of Jesus what the Gospel writers focus on is not the scourging, the whips, the nails, the physical pain but emphasize rather that, in all of this, Jesus is alone, misunderstood, lonely, isolated, without hardly any support. What is emphasized is the agony of a heart that is extra sensitive, gentle, loving, understanding, warm, inviting, hungry to embrace everyone.
On the surface it would seem that that the death of Jesus was a defeat for Jesus. But it really was a victory. It was the triumph of good over evil, of love over hate, of light over darkness and of life over death as the resurrection proved.
Recently a young woman was walking along with her 2-year-old son. He fell and started crying. Immediately she picked him up and embraced him absorbing his pain and fright. She did not scold or condemn him for falling. Shortly afterwards he stopped crying and was fine again. I feel that this is a good image of Jesus on the cross. He is there with his arms outstretched, absorbing the pain, the suffering, the hatred and violent intentions of others. He absorbs the pain into himself and returns it to us all as love, forgiveness, compassion and healing if we will but accept these. Jesus breaks the cycle of violence and instead of returning hatred for hatred as we see so often done in our world today, as with so many suicide bombings, murders, stabbings etc. he offers only total love in the hope we will imitate his incredible example. Jesus absorbed all the violence, transformed it and returned it as love and forgiveness.
So the liturgy of Holy Week is telling us of the incredible love of a God who will never give up on us no matter if having praised him in good times we will forget his love in hard times. It is very important to note that nowhere in any of the gospel readings of this week does Jesus condemn anyone. Neither does he condemn you and me. The ultimate proof of this is that whilst hanging, in terrible agony on the cross, Jesus prays: ‘Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing’.
But Jesus is the totally disarmed one, as the Letter to the Philippians says. He actually emptied himself and took on the condition of a slave, humbling himself even unto death, death on the cross. Jesus did not act out of a power stance or with any superior force but met bitterness with gentleness, hatred with love, rejection by accepting the others in their anger. How hard for us to imitate his example.
To follow Jesus faithfully is not easy. It is much easier to go to Mass, pray the rosary or say novenas. All these are very good. But Jesus asks us above all to follow his example by living daily with the same attitudes that he lived by. This is the way that leads to real peace and joy. That is why prayer too is very important. We need it to strengthen us in times of trial.
“Lord Jesus, thank you for breaking the cycle of violence that you were confronted with. Give us the Holy Spirit to follow your example and to be always faithful in following you. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein SMA, March 22, 2010