24 March – Palm Sunday – 2013
Luke 22:14–23, 56
When I worked in Nigeria many years ago several times each week I crossed over a bridge near where I lived. Both cars and pedestrians used the bridge. At each end of the bridge were a number of beggars looking for help from the passers-by. One such beggar was a man of about 45 years old. He looked very dirty and badly fed. Someone told me that at one stage that he was a very famous footballer and had played for the Nigerian football team. He was very well-known and at that time the crowds at football matches would chant his name and praise him for his many skills. How life had changed for him now. No one recognised or praised him in later years.
He reminded me of today’s reading and indeed of the readings for this Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, Jesus riding on a donkey, is proclaimed by the crowds as ‘the king who comes in the name of the Lord’. 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? So the readings today invite us to be faithful on our journey as Jesus was.
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.
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 turn around and forget his love in hard times. It is very important to note that nowhere in any of the gospel readings today or 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’. To the so-called Good Thief he promises immediate paradise, so the thief cannot ever claim to have been gifted with heaven because of any novenas or rosaries he made at that time. The gift of heaven is Jesus giving his total love unconditionally.
For years we are seeing on TV the never-ending cycle of violence between the Palestinians and Jews in Israel. It seems to get worse and worse. Jewish soldiers kill some Palestinian youths. The Palestinians then send in suicide bombers and kill 2 Jewish boys. The Jews reply with more killings of Palestinians – mostly teenagers. It can only get worse unless they follow the example of Jesus and this is far from easy. On the cross Jesus broke the cycle of violence. Instead of taking vengeance on those killing him and returning hatred for hatred he returned forgiveness and love. Jesus, the totally disarmed one, as the Letter to the Philippians says ‘did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped”. He actually emptied himself and took on the condition of a slave, humbling himself even unto 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.
Jesus on the cross is telling us what the real meaning of glory is in the Christian sense. It does not first of all mean having people putting their clothes or palm branches in our paths and praising us with words and songs. It does not mean receiving titles and honours only, neither does it mean being famous or popular. No, Jesus tells us that the real meaning of glory for a Christian is being faithful to God’s ways in humility and love especially in times of trial, temptation and suffering. People may mock or judge us as being foolish for following Jesus and accepting his way as being the true way. His way is the way of humility, of forgiveness, of love, of service.
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 indeed help us. But Jesus asks us to follow his example by living daily with the same attitudes that he lived by. Yet this is the way that leads to real peace and joy.
“Lord Jesus, thank you for breaking the cycle of violence that you were confronted with. The Good News is that you invite us to do the same because you trust we can do it too in our world today by relying on help of the powerful Holy Spirit which you give us freely. Amen”.
Fr.Jim Kirstein, SMA