Palm Sunday – 20 March 2016
On a recent popular television show here in Ireland, the host had invited two people, one a woman who was very severely physically impaired, suffering from cancer, muscle wastage and almost blind. Having visited the National Marian Shrine in Knock, Ireland and attending a Mass including a blessing for the sick she got up and claimed to be miraculously cured. Another a man with a terrible addiction to gambling who had tried very hard to overcome this and failed went to Medjugorje and claimed he was miraculously cured of his addiction. Some people in the audience accepted the two had experienced a miracle. Some others who were humanists and another who was an atheist said there were very good natural explanations or scientific reasons to explain the so-called miracles. It appears that one either believes through faith or one doesn’t.
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 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. I have set my face like steel knowing that I shall not be put to shame’. 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.
For many people the idea that God could empty himself and be obedient to death on a cross, having previously suffered terribly, just doesn’t seem possible because of their idea of who God is. The couple on the TV had suffered greatly and yet believed that God still loved and cared for them and strengthened them in their struggles and sufferings.
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 – hardly any of that. The gospel writers emphasise that Jesus is alone, misunderstood, lonely, isolated, without little support. What is emphasized is his suffering, the agony of a heart that is extra sensitive, gentle, loving, understanding, warm, inviting, hungry to embrace everyone. But which instead finds itself misunderstood, alone, hated, brutalized, facing death. That’s the point that has been too often missed both in spirituality and popular devotion.
We might also reflect on the inner state of Jesus as he went through his Passion and Death. How did he feel interiorly? All alone, rejected and abandoned etc? That is not to deny his terrible physical sufferings.
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’.
These days on TV we can see the cycle of violence between the Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq and between Palestinians and Jews in Israel getting worse and worse. And it will get far worse unless they follow the example of Jesus. This is far from easy. On the cross Jesus broke the cycle of violence. Instead of taking revenge on those killing him and returning hatred for hatred he returned forgiveness and love. 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.
For me, 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.
As we listened to the gospel account today which of the characters did we identify with most – Jesus, Peter, Judas, Pilate, the Scribes and Pharisees, the fickle crowd?
“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