We need to answer 5 questions today:
5. "What did the Christian's God do then?
On Marco Polo's celebrated trip to the Orient, he was taken before the great and fearsome ruler, Genghis Khan. Now what was Marco Polo supposed to do before this mighty pagan conqueror? One false move could cost him his life. He decided to tell the story of Jesus as it is recorded in the Gospels. It is said that when Marco Polo related the events of Holy Week, describing Jesus' betrayal, His trial, scourging and crucifixion, Genghis Khan became more and more agitated, more engrossed in the story, and more tense. When Marco Polo pronounced the words, "Then Jesus bowed his head and yielded up His spirit," Genghis Khan could no longer contain himself. He interrupted, bellowing, "What did the Christian's God do then? Did He send thousands of angels from Heaven to smite and destroy those who killed his Son?" What did the Christian's God do then? He watched His beloved Son die, that's what the Christian's God did then. For that was the way God chose for Jesus to ascend the throne of His Kingdom and to establish His Lordship for all time. Not at all the way we would expect God to demonstrate His might and power, but that's the way it was, and that is how we know what our God is like. In practical terms, that means that this suffering King who rules in love comes to lay His claim on our life. Our entire life is subject to His Lordship, not just a portion of it. To have Christ be our King means that we rely on Him for everything, most of all the forgiveness of sins.
6. Reminder of Maccabaean victory celebration:
I read about one of the fastest growing churches in the world, with branches in 32 countries already. It is called the Winners Church, and according to its leaders, it lives by a motto that comes from America's religious culture. Here's the motto: "Be happy. Be successful. Join the winners." People flock to that kind of church, I guess. But it all depends, doesn't it, on how we define winning? I wonder what kind of church you would have if your motto were "Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant." Or about this one for a motto, "Those who want to save their lives will lose them and those who lose their lives for my sake, will find them."
Surprising and inevitable. Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week are both surprising and inevitable. The truth is that we are not completely sure what to make of Palm Sunday...
C. Fr Jude Botelho:
Procession: The reading starts on a triumphant note, the celebration of a victory parade. Parades and processions have always been part of worship in Jewish and Christian tradition and they were the most normal way for people to acclaim the victories and triumphs of their heroes and heroines. When the parade is over the heroes fade away and are forgotten and Jesus whom we acclaim in today's victory procession will momentarily fade into his passion and death, but then he will rise again and live on. What is worth noting is the attitude of Jesus as He is about to enter into the final phase of his life. He meets his opponents openly as he triumphantly enters into Jerusalem. He does not merely tolerate and endure the passion rather he wholeheartedly chooses and accepts it. Far from being a defeat his passion starts as a victory, we see Jesus is in command of the situation rather than overpowered by it. He gives orders: Go to the village, find the donkey, if anyone asks say the Master needs it. And he went riding in and they acknowledged him. Hosanna to the Son of David!!! We remember that the palms we carry today will be burned and the ashes for next year's Ash Wednesday will be made from them. The sign of glory and the sign of conversion are made of the same stuff and meet in our flesh and lives.
The first reading from Isaiah describes the attitude and behaviour of the servant of Yahweh who foreshadows Jesus and all those persecuted for sake of justice and God's honour. This is not just a word of comfort and consolation but the rousing word of the good news, the imminent coming of the kingdom breaking into the lives of those bent under the weight of evil. This word teaches us how to resist without violence and how to rely on the strength that is always offered. Their shield that they grasped and held on to was God. Isaiah promised a servant of God, who would have a face like flint, to brave the pummeling, the spit and the ridicule, he would take on everything.
Look at my hand!
A vacationing family drives along in their car, windows rolled down, enjoying the warm summer breeze of the sunny day. All of a sudden a big black bee darts in the window and starts buzzing around inside the car. A little girl, highly allergic to bee stings, cringes in the back seat. If she is stung, she could die within an hour. "Oh, Daddy," she squeals in terror. "It's a bee! It's going to sting me!" The father pulls the car over to a stop, and reaches back to try to catch the bee. Buzzing around towards him, the bee bumps against the front windshield where the father traps it in his fist. Holding it in his closed hand, the father waits for the inevitable sting. The bee stings the father's hand and in pain, the father lets go of the bee. The bee is loose in the car again. The little girl again panics, "Daddy, it's going to sting me!" The father gently says, "No honey, he's not going to sting you now. Look at my hand." The bee's stinger was there in his hand.
As told in today's gospel by St. Matthew, whose account is probably the most authentic representation of what happened, the passion story is recounted not that we might feel sorry for Jesus because of what he suffered but that we might be touched by the love he had for us that motivated him to suffer the passion. As we go through the story we can be spectators or participants, we can look at it as a drama acted out or as something that I am part of right now, with people with whom I can identify. We can be part of the crowd or Pilate or Peter or Jesus.
Would you take his place?
After years of wandering, Clint Dennis realized that something important was missing from his life. He decided to attend Church. As he entered a church for the first time he noticed people putting on long robes. They were tying ropes around their waists and wrapping headdresses around their heads. "Come be part of the mob," a stranger told him. It was Palm Sunday and the church was enacting the Crucifixion in costume. He would be part of the crowd that shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Hesitantly, he agreed. Then another stranger hurried up to him. "The man who is supposed to play one of the thieves on the cross didn't show up," he said. "Would you take his place?" Again, Clint agreed and was shown the cross where he would look on as Jesus died. Just then, though, something about Clint's manner caught a member's eye. He turned to Clint and asked, "Have you ever asked Jesus to forgive your sins?" "No," Clint replied softly, "but that’s why I came here." There beneath the cross they prayed, and Clint asked Jesus to come into his heart. What the church didn't know was that Clint had been in prison for ten years. He was a real thief. Even after his release he had gone on stealing cars and trucks until he realized something was missing from his life.
The passion narrative starts with the betrayal of Judas Iscariot; in the face of this betrayal Jesus chooses to celebrate the Passover meal and give them his best gift: the gift of himself. When man is at his worse God is at his best! Jesus' way of responding to hurt and betrayal can be ours only when love has become the motive power of our lives. Even when Jesus is confronted by Judas who blatantly asks, "Not I Rabbi, surely?”, Jesus does not condemn him or embarrass him in front of the others. Even in the face of evidence Jesus refuses to judge, so unlike us. It is worth remembering that when we judge others we judge ourselves. After the celebration of the Passover sacrifice as they were leaving for the Mount of Olives Jesus predicts "You will all lose faith in me this night." But Peter is sure that he is not like the rest. There are many times when we can identify with Peter, we feel we are not like the rest of the disciples. We won't make the same mistakes that others make. Let's remind ourselves that our faith journey is not a competition to see who does better than others. The faith journey cannot be accomplished if we rely on our own strengths and capabilities, instead one needs to humbly acknowledge our inadequacies and rely on the Lord to see us through. As we go through the entire narrative of the passion what will strike us is that Jesus died a shameful death, reserved for the worst of criminals. Even though he died willingly and in a manly way, this manner of death would seem to wipe off with one stroke all the good he had done. If Jesus were truly the beloved Son of God, would God have allowed him to be overcome by his enemies? But God turned this human way of thinking completely upside down. By raising Jesus from the dead, God honoured Jesus more than anyone ever could have. He obliterated Jesus' shame with the glory of the resurrection. It is from this standpoint that one needs to reinterpret the passion. While it reports seemingly shameful events like the betrayal, the false witnesses, the trumped-up charges and the like, a careful reading shows that Jesus is master of his fate throughout the story. He knows that he is in the right; he trusts that God will vindicate him. Jesus is like every other innocently suffering person in the history of Israel: absolutely confident that God will set it all right. Today we dwell on the passion in order to draw closer to the person of Jesus and his great love for humanity and unflinching faith in the Father. To be like Jesus we have to be with Jesus. As we draw close to Jesus we are bound to change and become like the Son. “And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all to myself!"
Richard Matheson wrote a science-fiction story called "The Traveller." It's about a scientist called Paul Jairus, who is part of a research time that has developed an energy screen to permit people to travel back into time. The first trip is scheduled to take place a few days before Christmas and Jairus has been picked to make the trip. He decided to go back in time to the crucifixion of Jesus on Calvary. Jairus is a non-believer and anticipates finding the crucifixion different from the way the Bible describes it. When the historic moment comes, Jairus steps into the energy screen and soon finds himself soaring back into time -100 years, 1000 years, 2000 years. The energy screen touches down on target and Calvary is swarming with people, everybody's attention is focused on three men nailed to crosses about 100 feet away. Immediately Jairus asks the Command Centre for permission to move closer to the crosses, they grant it, but tell him to stay inside the energy screen. Jairus moves closer and as he does, his eyes come to rest on Jesus. Suddenly something remarkable begins to happen, Jairus feels drawn to Jesus, as a tiny piece of metal is drawn to a magnet. He is deeply moved by the love radiating from Jesus, it's something he'd never experienced before. Then contrary to all his expectations, events on Calvary begin to unfold exactly as the Gospel described them. Jairus is visibly shaken. The Command Centre realises this and fears he's becoming emotionally involved. They tell him to prepare for immediate return to the 20th century. Jairus protests, but to no avail. The trip back goes smoothly. When Jairus steps from the energy screen, it's clear he's a changed man.
‘The Passion of the Christ’
In 2004, Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’ created waves worldwide for its pathos and power. On viewing it, many ‘cold’ Christians’ faith was rekindled. James Caviezel who played Jesus said, “I had to prepare myself physically, spiritually, and emotionally for many months before playing the most demanding role of my career…. I couldn’t imagine that someone could endure such unbelievable and unbearable degradation and death for the sake of others.” He added, “All through the production as if ‘Someone’ was watching over me!” Playing Christ was a profound conversion experience for Caviezel. The most wonderful ‘witness’ of the Passion is Fr. Christudas, who on September 2, 1997, was beaten, stripped and paraded naked in Dumka, north India. His ‘passion’ continues since he is unjustly convicted for fabricated crimes. Christudas testifies: “I couldn’t bear the humiliation and pain until suddenly I felt one with Jesus who suffered everything, and even more than myself. Thereafter, I surrendered!” Does that ‘Someone’ who ‘watched over’ Caviezel’s action also ‘part-take’ in these ‘passions’?
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for daily Deeds’