17 April 2011 – Palm Sunday
Matthew 26:14 – 27:66
Recently I was speaking to a woman who practises Zen meditation. She grew up as a Catholic. When I tried to explain to her that in the Passion narrative which we hear today we have to be honest and say that from the moment he chose them as his apostles, the 12 and the other disciples appear as a very human and weak group. Are not many of us like this at times? They come across to us as men who constantly misunderstand the message of Jesus. They stay with him but as the likelihood of Jesus being put to death becomes clear they all abandon him and run away’. Her reaction to me at that stage was: ‘Well if that is how those who were close to Jesus acted, what hope is there for the Church now?’ And, of course, she is right if the crucifixion of Jesus was the end of the story. But it isn’t. The resurrection of Jesus gives a whole new way of looking at life and what the Risen Jesus is offering us.
We are entering Holy Week today as we celebrate Palm Sunday. The Paschal or Passover mystery of Jesus, his passage from death to life, is the heart of our faith. The account of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus forms the oldest part of the gospels. It is what the disciples recorded first. We must remember that we have the great advantage of reading and celebrating the Passion accounts of the life of Jesus knowing how it all ended with his Father gloriously raising him from the dead. At the time of Jesus the disciples didn’t have that luxury. They had pinned all their hopes on Jesus. The earlier part of his life was a great success story, with huge crowds following him especially when he performed many miracles. But, bit by bit, as he began to mention suffering and death in Jerusalem they began to have doubts and many stopped following him. Finally, the arrest of Jesus was too much for the disciples and we are told they all deserted him, except some brave women who remained faithful to the end. Little wonder it was to those that he first appeared after his resurrection!
Matthew’s version of the Passion goes into details. The betrayal, the fear, and the denial of the apostles are openly pointed out. The Master bewilders them. The same for those who wish to put him to death, either the Roman or Jewish leaders. Their security and vested interests are threatened and they wash their hands of Jesus. They act as if we can deny our responsibilities as easy as that.
They accuse Jesus of wanting to become a king. Jesus does accept his kingship but it differs from that of Herod’s or Caesar’s. It is a kingdom of service, not of domination. It is the choice of the One who emptied himself and surrendered himself to death on a cross. For anyone wishing to follow Jesus this emptying or humiliation is the obligatory path to serve others. It is the path followed by the Master and the one which the disciples today will have to follow if they are to be true to their calling.
One way of responding to the Passion narrative or story is to ask myself where do I stand myself now? Which of the characters in the drama can I associate with most? Am I at times like Pilate who had not the courage to stand up for the truth? He had no just reason for condemning Jesus yet his fear of losing his position as governor would have been put in danger if the Jewish leaders complained him to the emperor. Have I acted like the Jewish religious leaders who were not prepared to listen to the truth of what Jesus was saying? This which would have demanded a radical change in the way they were asked to respond to God, not from self-interest but of loving and humble service to all. The soldiers mocked Jesus and even spat at him. How do I treat others under my authority, at work or wherever? Do I mock others in my thoughts or by my words or actions? What of the disciples of Jesus, all betrayed him and deserted him. Am I always faithful in following Jesus or have I deserted him for fear of what others may say if I act in a truly Christian way which may be contrary to popular opinion?
Above all let us look at the inner emotional state of Jesus. How do you think he felt when those he chose to be his close friends deserted him? When he was in the Garden of Gethsemene he was full of fear and distress. He knows from the inside what it is to be fully human. So he called out to his Father to spare him all the suffering that he would have to undergo. If Jesus wanted so much to avoid suffering and healed so many who were sick do we still believe in a God who we wrongly think wants to punish us and make us suffer. As Jesus cried out on the cross ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ and no answer came from God will Jesus not now understand our situation when God at times doesn’t seem to answer our call for help as and when we wish it to be?
“Lord Jesus, we have sinned, we have sinned. Praise and thank you for becoming as human as we are. Help us to realise that suffering and death are part and parcel of life. We believe you are with us every step of the way. Praise you for being faithful to your Father. Praise you for the Good News that suffering and death are not the end but the door to the fullness of life with you beginning now. Amen.”
Fr.Jim Kirstein, SMA