What different story would we be telling today if the unnamed owners of the donkey had refused to give it up? Maybe we would have no story of the triumphal entry, at least not in the way Jesus wanted it. No matter how unknown a person is, he or she can still play a crucial role in the unfolding of God's plan.The Lord needs each one of us as he needed the unnamed owners of the donkey in the reading. We are not told who these owners of the donkey are but the fact that they understood that "the Lord" refers to Jesus and voluntarily gave up the donkey shows that they could be his secret disciples or admirers. Otherwise one would have expected them to answer, "But who is this Lord who needs my donkey?"
1. Fr. Tony Kadavil:
1: Reminder of Maccabean victory celebration: A key element of understanding the connection between the Palm Sunday reception given to Jesus and Good Friday is to recognize that the actions, words, and symbols of Palm Sunday indicated a religious and political Messiah who would save the Jews from foreign rule and regain for them religious and political freedom. The occasion of this reception was carefully chosen by the Lord God, through Jesus’ disciples, to coincide with the Passover feast which celebrated the Jewish liberation from Egyptian rule and slavery. The palms used in the procession and the slogan used (“Hosanna!” meaning “Save us, God!”) were probably used by Judas Maccabaeus and his men December 14, 164 BC, when when they purified the Temple from the pagan Greek desecration begun on that same date in 167 BC by order of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and in the June 3, 141 BC victory parade to the Temple after Simon Maccabaeus, last of the family, had retaken and cleared the Citadel in Jerusalem. In 1 Mc13:51, we read: “On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.” It was natural, then, that the Romans saw the crowds of people carrying palm branches and giving a royal reception to a very popular, miracle-working rabbi, Jesus, as a potential threat to their power and a banner for revolution. Hence, the governor Pilate and his counselors were justified in their concern. They interpreted people’s slogan “Hosanna!” as “Save us” from Roman occupation! Besides, the Jewish rabbis had been teaching that the final redemption of the Jews would take place with the Messiah’s arrival. With 1½ to 2 million Jews in and around the city for the Passover, the situation was highly volatile, and Jesus’ ride on a donkey, as prophesied by Zechariah, seemed to have all the signs of producing great trouble and revolt. So the Romans informally made allies of some of the Temple priesthood (largely Sadducees), who were planning to arrest Jesus (the suspected center for the trouble), because these priests were the people most closely allied to Rome, and they would lose their power and income in the case of a popular uprising. This collusion between Pilate and the High Priest Caiaphas and their supporters is exactly what we see in the Passion accounts describing the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. Given the political, religious and social context, this is hardly surprising. Keeping that in the back of our minds helps us to make sense of certain parts of the action that will follow. (Fr. Murray from Jerusalem). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
2: Are you a donkey with a Christian name only, or one carrying Christ? An interesting as well as challenging old fable tells of the colt that carried Jesus on Palm Sunday. The colt thought that the reception was organized to honor him. “I am a unique donkey!” this excited animal might have thought. When he asked his mother if he could walk down the same street alone the next day and be honored again, his mother said, “No, you are nothing without Him who was riding you.” Five days later, the colt saw a huge crowd of people in the street. It was Good Friday, and the soldiers were taking Jesus to Calvary. The colt could not resist the temptation of another royal reception. Ignoring the warning of his mother, he ran to the street, but he had to flee for his life as soldiers chased him and people stoned him. Thus, the colt finally learned the lesson that he was only a poor donkey without Jesus to ride on him. As we enter Holy Week, today’s readings challenge us to examine our lives to see whether we carry Jesus within us and bear witness to Him through our living or are Christians in name only. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
3: Zachariah foresaw it. Jesus fulfilled it: The Greek author Plutarch describes how Kings are supposed to enter a city. He tells about one Roman general, Aemilius Paulus, who won a decisive victory over the Macedonians. When Aemilius returned to Rome, his triumphal procession lasted three days. The first day was dedicated to displaying all the artwork that Aemilius and his army had plundered. The second day was devoted to all the weapons of the Macedonians they had captured. The third day began with the rest of the plunder borne by 250 oxen, whose horns were covered in gold. This included more than 17,000 pounds of gold coins. Then came the captured and humiliated king of Macedonia and his extended family. Finally, Aemilius himself entered Rome, riding in a magnificent chariot. Aemilius wore a purple robe, interwoven with gold. He carried his laurels in his right hand. He was accompanied by a large choir singing hymns, praising the military accomplishments of the great Aemilius. That, my friends, is how a King enters a city. But the King of Kings? He entered riding on a lowly donkey. Zechariah envisioned the King of Kings, the Messiah, coming not on a great stallion, but riding on a humble donkey. Zechariah foresaw it. Jesus fulfilled it. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).
4. Little Johnny was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from Church with his mother. His father returned from Church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, Dad?” His father explained, “You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honor Him; so we got palm branches today.” “Aw, shucks,” grumbled Little Johnny. “The one Sunday I can’t go to Church, and Jesus shows up!”
5. The king on a donkey! Some of you heard my story about the husband and the wife who had quarrelled. It had been a pitched battle of wills, each digging heels in to preserve the position each had vehemently taken. Emotions had run high. As they were driving to attend a family wedding in a distant city, both were nursing hurt feelings in defensive silence. The angry tension between them was so thick you could cut it with a knife. But, then the silence was broken. Pointing to a donkey standing in a pasture out beside the road, the husband sarcastically asked, “Relative of yours?” The wife quickly replied, “By marriage!”
25 Additional anecdotes:
1) Two processions: “Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30 … One was a peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class …On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. As Mark tells the story in 11:1-11, Jesus’ procession is a prearranged ‘counter-procession.’ The meaning of the demonstration is clear, for it uses symbolism from the prophet Zechariah in the Jewish Bible. According to Zechariah, a king would be coming to Jerusalem (Zion), ‘humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (9:9). Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’ procession embodied an alternative vision, the Kingdom of God. The king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land—no more chariots, warhorses, or bows. Commanding peace to the nations, Jesus will be a king of peace. Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology — worshipping the emperor as god. It was the standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals … to be in the city in case there was trouble … The mission of the troops with Pilate was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in the Fortress Antonia, overlooking the Jewish Temple and its courts. No wonder, the Roman governor realized how the peasant procession was a threat to his government and, hence, its leader should be exterminated.” (Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’ Final Week in Jerusalem. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
2) Welcome to the triumph and the tragedy of the Holy Week: On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Union Army, at the Appomattox Court House, Appomattox, Virginia. This surrender ended the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil. State against state, brother against brother, it was a conflict that literally tore the nation apart. Five days later, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, America’s most revered president, Abraham Lincoln, was shot and mortally wounded by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theatre. It was Lincoln who wrote the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery in the U.S. forever. It was Lincoln who wrote and gave The Gettysburg Address. Lincoln hated war, but he was drawn into this one because he believed it was the only way to save the nation. On Palm Sunday, the war ended. Triumph. On Good Friday, Abraham Lincoln became the first U.S. president to be assassinated. Tragedy. — Welcome to Holy Week. Welcome to the triumph and the tragedy of the six days preceding Easter. (Surrender location corrected by Fr. Richard W. Frank, email@example.com) Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
3) The cross and the crucifix down through the centuries: Until the fifth century AD, the early Christians generally avoided representing the Cross with the body of Jesus; in fact even bare crosses were rarely depicted until the fourth century AD. As J. H. Miller (op. cit.) explained, there were many reasons for the Church’s reluctance to openly represent the cross as its symbol. For many Jews and Gentiles, the cross underscored the seemingly irreconcilable contradiction of Christian belief, viz. that a crucified man could also be God. As various early heresies attacked either the divinity or humanity of Christ, the symbol of the cross, which seemed to exacerbate the conflict, was avoided, Not until the fourth century (during the reign of Constantine) did the cross begin to appear everywhere in public places as the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity. Despite the frequency of its representation in Christian art and architecture, the cross remains an ambivalent symbol. In its crossbeams meet death and life, sin and salvation, conquest and victory, immanence and transcendence. The cross represents both the basest aspects of the human condition and the most sublime reflection of divinity. As Karl Rahner once explained, “the cross of the Lord is the revelation of what sin really is. The cross of Christ mercilessly reveals what the world hides from itself: that it, as it were, devours the Son of God in the insane blindness of its sin — a sin in which Godless hate is truly set on fire upon contact with the love of God” (The Content of Faith, Crossroad Press, New York: 1992). 12:32). — As the dual revelation of the sinfulness of humanity and the love of God, the cross is unparalleled. ( Sanchez Files). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
3)”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 for our King means that we must rely on Him for everything, most of all the forgiveness of sins. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
4) “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.” Constantine the Great was the first Christian Roman emperor. His father Constantius I who succeeded Diocletian as emperor in 305 AD, was a pagan with a soft heart for Christians. It is said that when he ascended the throne, he discovered that many Christians held important jobs in the government and in the court. So he issued an executive order to all those Christians: “Either give up Christ or give up your jobs.” The great majority of Christians gave up their jobs rather than disown Christ. Only a few cowards gave up their religion rather than lose their jobs. The emperor was pleased with the majority who showed the courage of their convictions and gave their jobs back to them while he dismissed those who were willing to give up their allegiance to Christ to keep their jobs, saying to them, “If you will not be true to your God you will not be true to me either.” — Today we join the Palm Sunday crowd in spirit to declare our loyalty to Christ and our fidelity to His teachings by actively participating in the Palm Sunday liturgy. As we carry the palm to our homes, we are declaring our choice to accept Jesus as the King and ruler of our lives and our families. Let us express our gratitude to Jesus for redeeming us by His suffering and death. We do so best by our active participation in the Holy Week liturgy and our reconciliation with God and His Church, as we repent of our sins and receive God’s pardon and forgiveness from Jesus through his Church. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
5) Passion Sunday and the shadow of the cross: The Bishop of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris during the early part of the last century was a great evangelizer who tried to reach out to unbelievers, scoffers, and cynics. He liked to tell the story of a young man who would stand outside the cathedral and shout derogatory slogans at the people entering to worship. He would call them fools and other insulting names. The people tried to ignore him but it was difficult. One day the parish priest went outside to confront the young man, much to the distress of the parishioners. The young man ranted and raved against everything the priest told him. Finally, the priest addressed the young scoffer, saying, “Look, let’s get this over with once and for all. I’m going to dare you to do something and I bet you can’t do it.” And of course the young man shot back, “I can do anything you propose, you white-robed wimp!” “Fine,” said the priest. “All I ask you to do is to come into the sanctuary with me. I want you to stare at the figure of Christ on His cross, and I want you to scream at the very top of your lungs, as loudly as you can. ‘Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.” So the young man went into the sanctuary, and looking at the figure, screamed as loudly as he could, “Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.” The priest said, “Very good. Now do it again.” And again the young man screamed, with a little more hesitancy, “Christ died on the cross for me, and I don’t care one bit.” “You’re almost done now,” said the priest. “One more time.” The young man raised his fist, kept looking at the crucifix, but the words wouldn’t come. He just could not look at the face of Christ and say those words any more. The real punch line came when, after he told the story, the bishop said, “I was that young man. That young man, that defiant young man was I. I thought I didn’t need God but found out that I did.” (World Stories for Preachers and Teachers by William J. Bausch). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
6) In the footsteps of Jesus, the donkey rider: There is a biography of a man who was one of the most learned people of his generation. He had two PhDs – one in philosophy, another in theology. Further, he was a world-class musician, and concert halls around the world were sold out when he went on tour. Then, to the surprise of everyone, he decided he wanted to go to a medical college to earn yet another doctoral degree in medicine. As soon as he had his medical degree, he left the comfortable surroundings of Western Europe and went into the jungles of Africa. There he cleared away part of the jungle and began building a clinic and a hospital. Once these were built, he started providing medical care to the young and old of Africa. Many years later, Dr. Albert Schweitzer won the Nobel Peace Prize for his ministry of healing in the jungles of Africa. When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, he shared with that distinguished crowd in Stockholm the reason he had built a hospital in Africa. The reason was summed up, he stated in the first words he always said to his native patients as they awakened from an operation. He would say: “The reason that you have no more pain is because the Lord Jesus told the good doctor and his wife to come to the banks of Ogooue River and help you. If you owe thanks to anyone, you owe it to the Lord Jesus.” He accepted the challenge to be a humble servant of Jesus Christ. –And this is our challenge – this is your challenge – this is my challenge in this Holy Week! When we look beyond our own needs to the needs of others, we will be walking the road to becoming a humble servant of Jesus Christ. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
7) “Welcome home Mr. President.” A number of years ago, Newsweek magazine carried the story of the memorial service held for Hubert Humphrey, former Vice-President of the United States. Hundreds of people came from all over the world to say good-bye to their old friend and colleague. But one person who came was shunned and ignored by virtually everyone there. Nobody would look at him much less speak to him. That person was former President Richard Nixon. Not long before, he had gone through the shame and infamy of Watergate. He was back in Washington for the first time since his resignation from the presidency. Then a very special thing happened, perhaps the only thing that could have made a difference and broken the ice. President Jimmy Carter, who was in the White House at that time, came into the room. Before he was seated, he saw Nixon over against the wall, all by himself. He went over to [him] as though he were greeting a family member, stuck out his hand to the former president, and smiled broadly. To the surprise of everyone there, the two of them embraced each other, and Carter said, “Welcome home, Mr. President! Welcome home!” Commenting on that, Newsweek magazine asserted, “If there was a turning point in Nixon’s long ordeal in the wilderness, it was that moment and that gesture of love and compassion.” — The turning point for us is Palm Sunday. It is our moment of triumph. It was a triumph because God, Jesus, decided to ignore our miserable state and act on our behalf. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
8) Hosanna leading to the cross: Some years ago, a book was written by a noted American historian entitled When the Cheering Stopped. It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following World War I. When that war was over, Wilson, the 28th president of the United States was an international hero. There was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought, and the world had been made safe for democracy. On his first visit to Paris after the war, Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than France’s own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate, and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all, the President’s health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man. — It’s a sad story, but one that is not altogether unfamiliar. The ultimate reward for someone who tries to translate ideals into reality is apt to be frustration and defeat. It happened that way to Jesus. When He emerged on the public scene, He was an overnight sensation. On Palm Sunday, leafy palm branches were spread before Him and there were shouts of “Hosanna.” But before it was all over, a tidal wave of manipulated opposition had welled up that brought Jesus to the cross. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
9) Christ-less donkey arrested and handcuffed on a Palm Sunday: The light turns green, but the man doesn’t notice that the light has changed. The woman behind him begins pounding on her steering wheel and yelling at the man to move! The man doesn’t move! The woman is going ballistic, ranting and raving at the man, pounding on her steering wheel. When the light turns yellow, the woman begins blowing her car’s horn and screaming curses at the man. Finally, the man looks up, sees the yellow light, and accelerates through the intersection just as the light turns red. While she is still ranting, she hears a tap on her window and looks up into the barrel of a gun held by a very serious looking policeman. The policeman tells her to pull her car to the side, shut off the engine, come out and stand facing the car, while keeping both hands on the car roof. She is quickly cuffed, and hustled into the patrol car. The woman is too bewildered to ask any questions, and she is driven to the police station, where she is fingerprinted, photographed, searched, booked, and locked up in a cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman approaches the cell, and opens the door. The policeman hands her the bag containing her things, and says, “I’m sorry for this mistake, but you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, and cursing at the car in front of you. I noticed the “Choose Christ” license plate holder, and the “Follow Me To Sunday School” bumper sticker, and Palm Sunday palm leaves inside the back windshield. So naturally I assumed you had stolen the car because such a nice Christian, who courageously displays Christian symbols in her car, would never act as you did.” Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
10) A donkey at Kentucky Derby? Church tradition tells us (though none of the Gospels report it), that this wasn’t Jesus’ first donkey ride. Matthew’s text doesn’t detail how Joseph traveled with Mary to Egypt and back to Nazareth again. Nor does Luke’s Gospel describe how Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem. But all of us have in our heads the picture of a pregnant Mary perched on the back of a sturdy donkey. Our mind’s eye puts her back on that beast for the escape to Egypt and the homeward trek to Nazareth after Herod had died. Church tradition has long suggested that in honor of the donkey’s humble service to Jesus, the animal was rewarded with a permanent “sign of the cross,” for most donkeys do show a distinctive black cross pattern across their sturdy shoulders. — Despite this lip service from Church tradition, the donkey still remains far beyond the pale of glory. Little girls don’t dream of riding across summer fields on a little donkey. The Kentucky Derby doesn’t blow the herald horn for a herd of dinky donkeys to race around the track. And everyone from Shakespeare to Pinocchio knows that fools and dolts are depicted as donkeys. Of course, the donkey’s other common name says it all: a donkey is just an . . . well, you know what that word is. Yet if the mission of the Church is to carry Christ into the world, then each of us is called to be a donkey. There’s no particular glory in being a donkey. There are only long trails, steep roads, heavy loads, and little or no recognition for a completed job. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
11) An angry Christ: A Catholic priest in Dayton, Ohio defied his archbishop by denying Communion to worshipers who did not observe a dress code. For several years he had denied the Sacraments to anyone who came to Church in “shorts, bare midriffs, tank tops, jeans, and sweatshirts.” Finally, the Archbishop retired the 73-year old priest for defying his authority. The priest said: “I do not hate the Archbishop. I have only pity for him, since he will have to face an angry Christ in judgment.” (Christian Century, January 24, 1990, page 73). — Whatever we may think of the good priest’s sartorial preferences, we must be shocked awake by his words: “an angry Christ.” Yes, according to the Gospel record, Christ did get angry. And He got angry over something a whole lot more important than a dress code. In fact, it might be argued that the attitude expressed by the good father in Dayton was precisely the sort of attitude that made Jesus really angry-putting roadblocks in front of people who wished to come to Him. The first place where it says He got angry was when He was forbidden to heal on the Sabbath. (Mark 3:5) In another place, anger is not mentioned, but implied. That was when He came to the Temple on the Monday of Passion Week. There, His passion burst forth against the moneychangers in the Temple. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
12) A parade of humility: A pastor was once asked to speak at a banquet for a charitable organization. After the meeting, the program chairman handed the pastor a check. “Oh, I don’t want this,” the pastor said. “I appreciate the honor of being asked to speak. Keep the check and apply it to something special.” The program chairman asked, “Well, do you mind if we put it in our special fund?” “Of course not!” the pastor replied. “Could you please tell me what your special fund is for?” The chairman answered, “It’s so we can get a better speaker for next year.” — Life is full of humbling experiences. But, when we look at Jesus’ parade through the Holy City, we sense that it was an act of humility. He did not choose to ride into the city upon a stallion, but a donkey. He was not coming in the might and power of a conquering king, but as a humble servant. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
13) “The Hero’s Quest.” Some of you will remember the name of Joseph Campbell. Campbell taught in relative obscurity for many years until Bill Moyers discovered him, did a series on public television about Campbell’s ideas about mythology and comparative religions, and thus elevated him into celebrity, most of it posthumous since Campbell died shortly after that television series. What caught Moyers’ attention was Campbell’s book entitled, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Incidentally, it also caught George Lucas’s attention and was the inspiration for his film, Star Wars. The thesis of that book is that the same story appears over and over again in all the world’s literature, including the Bible. He called that story, “The Hero’s Quest.” He said that the plot is always the same. A hero must make a solitary journey, sometimes to climb a mountain to get the prize, sometimes to go to the cave to slay the dragon, sometimes to journey the gates of the forbidden city. The hero is the person who faces hostile powers, enters the struggle, prepared to give his or her life, and then comes out of it a new person, with a new life. — Those stories are everywhere. They are a part of every culture. In Greece, we see it as the Golden Fleece. In Britain, it is the Arthurian legends and the Holy Grail. And in the Bible, it is the story of Abraham leaving Ur of Chaldees, the most civilized part of the world in those days, and journeying through many “dangers, toils, and snares” to a promised land. Or it is Moses, leaving the comfort and security of shepherding in Midian to go to Egypt and confront Pharaoh. Or it is David, leaving the simple life of a shepherd boy and going out to meet the giant Goliath. But unparalleled in history is Jesus’ leaving the safety of Galilee and heading for Jerusalem to accomplish His mission of redeeming mankind by His suffering, death and Resurrection. That is the story of Palm Sunday. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
14) “Sir, I just know I love Jesus.” In a Sociology of Religion class at the University of Virginia, the professor asked the students in the first class to tell about their religious background and commitments. One young woman named Barb said she was a Christian. The professor asked, “What tradition of the Christian faith do you identify with? The northern European or English pietism or another?” The student did not understand his question. Finally she said, “Sir, I don’t know exactly what you mean; I just know I love Jesus.” Right there in a classroom, Jesus was declared to be King and perhaps attracted more followers. One of my favorite golfers on the pro tour is Tom Lehman. He often says, “I think of myself as a Christian who plays golf, not as a golfer who is a Christian.” — What about you? Are you first a Christian and then secondarily a banker or a teacher or a salesperson or a Republican or a white person or a husband or a mother? Is the word “Christian” your most important adjective? When you declare, “Jesus is Lord!” have you revealed the essential you? This Jesus is still marching down the streets of the world, calling people to decision. Jesus is the unidentified King who has no crown to wear or kingdom to command…until one person at a time declares by Faith, “Jesus is Lord for me. He will reign in my life.” Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
15) The myth of redemptive violence: “In a period when attendance at Christian Sunday schools is dwindling, the myth of redemptive violence has won children’s voluntary acquiescence to a regimen of religious indoctrination more extensive and effective than any in the history of religions. Estimates vary widely, but the average child is reported to log roughly 36,000 hours of television by age 18, viewing some 15,000 murders. What church or synagogue can even remotely keep pace with the myth of redemptive violence in hours spent teaching children or the quality of presentation? (Think of the typical “children’s sermon” – how bland by comparison!)” With that kind of insight as a background, perhaps we should EXPECT what happened to Jesus in the Holy Week. (“The Myth of Redemptive Violence” http://www.biblesociety.org.uk/exploratory/articles/wink99.doc ). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
16) After the shouts of Hosanna we should walk to Golgotha: Bishop Kenneth Carder (Tennessee) wrote: “The Church of today has become an institution in which even belief in God is optional or peripheral. Marketing techniques for a multiple option institution have replaced response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the means of membership enlistment. The basic appeal is to self-defined needs rather than a call to radical discipleship. The Church’s mission, all too often, is to meet its members’ perceived needs rather than to serve God’s need for a redeemed, reconciled, and healed world.” — Our concept of consumerism has crept into the Church. To recruit persons and to be marketable we think that we need to be able to say: “Look what our Church can offer you.” In this atmosphere of a sorority rush party, talk of discipleship is muted. Discipleship means knowing Who Jesus Christ is and following the Revelation made known to us in His teaching, death, Resurrection, and presence. Commitment means that, after the shouts of Hosanna, we walk to Golgotha carrying His cross of suffering. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
17) And Superman ducked! Jesus rides upon a donkey fulfilling an ancient prophecy, but clearly in total control. He knows what will happen to Him in Jerusalem. Still He rides on. He does not seek to avoid the task to which He has been called. It reminds me of a routine comedian David Brenner used to do about Superman in the movies. Go back with me in your minds. Picture this scene. Superman is confronting one of the bad guys. The bad guy would fire at Superman with a gun. Superman would smirk and throw his chest out. The bullets would bounce harmlessly away. But did you ever notice what happened next? Brenner said, “And then when the guy ran out of bullets, he would throw the gun at Superman. And Superman ducked.” He ducked! I’ll bet you never thought about that before. Bullets bounced off of him, but when a gun was thrown at him, Superman ducked. — Perhaps that amusing insight will serve to remind us that Jesus did not have to enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He could have ducked His mission. But still He rode on. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
18) King for a day: Once upon a time, before television, there was radio. One of the most popular daytime radio programs in those days was called Queen for a Day. Each day four or five women from the studio audience would tell the host what they would like to do if they could be “Queen for a Day.” Then, on the basis of applause, one woman was chosen, and insofar as they were able, the sponsors fulfilled her wildest desires. She was given a number of valuable prizes and for one day she reigned as “Queen.” — That sounds like what happened to Jesus, doesn’t it? Jesus was crowned “King for a Day” on that first Palm Sunday. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
19) The humble king versus proud kings: The dictator Sulla during the time of the Roman republic invented the “proscription”, by which he would just announce whom he wanted dead. This would be read out in public places and he then would reward anyone who would kill that particular person. Caligula abandoned himself to cruelty and lust. He declared himself to be a god and would often go through the streets of Rome dressed as Bacchus, Venus, or Apollo. The Romans were compelled to worship him, and he made the wealthiest citizens his priests. Having exhausted Rome and Italy, in AD. 39 Caligula led a large army across the Alps for the purpose of plundering Gaul, where the richest citizens were put to death and their property confiscated. — The crowd that cheered Jesus was familiar with such cruelties of the Kings and Emperors. Contrary to their experience, they found a new procession where the king was adorned with humility. (Fr. Bobby Jose). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
20) “Help! Help!” There is an old story about a preacher who was having problems and decided to leave the ministry. But he ran into trouble finding another job. Finally, in desperation, he took a job at the local zoo. The gorilla had died, and since it had been the children’s favorite animal, the zoo officials decided to put someone in a gorilla costume until a real replacement could be found. To the minister’s surprise, he liked the job. He enjoyed ministering to children as the donkey on Palm Sunday carried Jesus. He got lots of attention and could eat all he wanted. There was no stress: there were no deadlines, complaints or committees. And he could take a nap anytime he wanted. One day he was feeling particularly frisky. So he began swinging on the trapeze. Higher and higher he went. But suddenly he lost his grip, flipped a couple of times, and landed in the next cage. Stunned and dazed, he looked up and saw a ferocious lion. In his panic he forgot he was supposed to be a gorilla and yelled, “Help! Help!” That ferocious lion turned in his direction and said, “0h, shut up, man, I’m a minister too.” — Unlike these gorilla and lion ministers, all of us are supposed to be donkey ministers by becoming donkey-givers like the man Jesus met long ago, who loaned his donkey to Jesus to ride as He entered Jerusalem for the last time. We become donkey-givers when we give something that promotes Jesus and His Kingdom. Five hundred years from now as we delight in the glory of God’s Kingdom, we will not even remember how much money we earned on earth or how big our houses were or whether we had much status or popularity. But we will celebrate forever every single donkey we gave to the Master in the form of little things we have done for others in Jesus’ name for God’s glory. Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
21) Speaking Donkey: Ever wonder why the donkey is the only animal in the Bible that speaks? Karl Barth at his 80th birthday party offered this testimony: “In the Bible there’s talk of a donkey, or to be quite correct, an ass. It was allowed to carry Jesus to Jerusalem. If I have achieved anything in this life, then I did so as a relative of the ass who at that time was going his way carrying an important burden. The disciples had said to its owner: ‘The Master has need of it.’ And so, it seems to have pleased God to have used me at this time. Apparently, I was permitted to be the ass which was allowed to carry as best I could a better theology, a little piece” [as quoted by John Robert McFarland’s Preacher’s Workshop in “The Illustration is the Point,” The Christian Ministry, (January-February, 1988), 21.] Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
22) “The Traveler”: Richard Matheson wrote a science-fiction story called “The Traveler.” 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 realizes 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. (Mark Link). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
23) Victory of St. Polycarp: In Christian art, the martyrs are almost always shown holding palm branches as symbols of victory over temptation and suffering. These martyrs are our older brothers and sisters in the Faith — God wants us to learn from and be encouraged by them. Take the example of St Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. • In the year 155, Polycarp was condemned to death for refusing to give idolatrous worship to the Roman Emperor. As he was a well-known Christian leader, even though he was already in his 80s, his execution was made into a large public spectacle. • He was burned to death in the city stadium. • Normally, criminals executed that way were actually fastened to the pile of wood, so that they wouldn’t climb out of the fire. • But not Polycarp. • He told his guards: “He who gives me strength to endure the fire will also grant me to stay on the pyre unflinching even without your making sure of it with nails.” • According to eye witnesses, his last words were a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving to God for giving him the honor of sharing Christ’s cup of suffering. • Those same eye witnesses tell us that when the fire was lit, • a great flame blazed up, • but instead of burning Polycarp right away, • it surrounded him like a fiery force field; • his face was serene and his body glowed like gold being refined in a furnace. • As he peacefully breathed his last, the onlookers perceived a fragrant smell, as if incense were being offered. — This is the paradox of Palm Sunday, which God wants us all to experience: that Christ’s limitless love • can strengthen us to resist even the greatest temptations, • and fill us with interior peace and joy even amidst the flames of suffering that torment us here on earth. (E- Priest) . Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
24) Helplessness of a terminal cancer patient: The renowned spiritual writer Henri Nouwen, shares how he once went to a hospital to visit a man dying of cancer. The man was still relatively young and had been a very hardworking and generative person. He was the father of a family and provided well for them. He was the chief executive officer in a large company and took good care of both the company and his employees. Moreover, he was involved in many other organizations, including his Church, and, because of his leadership abilities, was often the one in charge. But now, this once-so-active man, this person who was so used to being in control of things, was lying on a hospital bed, dying, unable to take care of even his most basic needs. As Nouwen approached the bed, the man took his hand. It’s significant to note the particular frustration he expressed: “Father, you have to help me! I’m dying, and I am trying to make peace with that, but there is something else too: You know me, I have always been in charge—I took care of my family. I took care of the company. I took care of the Church. I took care of things! Now I am lying here, on this bed and I can’t even take care of myself. I can’t even go to the bathroom! Dying is one thing, but this is another! I’m helpless! I can’t do anything anymore!” Despite his exceptional pastoral skills, Nouwen, like any of us in a similar situation, was left rather helpless in the face of this man’s plea. The man was undergoing an agonizing passivity. He was now a patient. He had once been active, the one in charge; and now, like Jesus in the hours leading up to his death, he was reduced being a patient, one who is ministered to by others. Nouwen, for his part, tried to help the man see the connection between what he was undergoing and what Jesus endured in his passion, especially how this time of helplessness, diminishment, and passivity is meant to be a time where we can give something deeper to those around us. (Quoted by Fr. Ron Rolheiser). — Among other things, Nouwen read the Passion narratives of the Gospels aloud to him because what this man was enduring parallels very clearly what Jesus endured in the hours leading up to his death, a time we Christians entitle, “the Passion of Jesus.” What exactly was the Passion of Jesus? Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021.
25) Obediently accepting death on a cross: Andy lived in Jersey City. His father worked for the great meat-packing firm of Swift and Company. Andy’s dad used every opportunity to educate his son along practical lines. One day when the boy was about ten, he took him on a tour of the Swift packinghouses in Newark to show him how they killed animals for the meat-markets. Swift called these places their “abattoirs.” The French word abattoir sounds a little less gross, but it means the same as the English “slaughter-house.” What the butchers did there was a necessary but bloody business, not always easy for a visitor to stomach. Andy noticed in particular the way in which the different types of animals reacted to impending death. The beef cattle and calves struggled and bellowed with fear. Pigs squealed and squirmed and tried to escape. But the sheep were different. They simply stood there meek and silent, offering no resistance to their slayers. When Andy grew up, he became a priest. He never forgot the way he had seen sheep behave in the face of death, and he often pointed out in his Holy Week sermons how appropriately the Christ who died for us is called “the Lamb.” The Jews of Bible times knew very well how sheep acted under these circumstances. Sheep and goats were their main livestock. Isaiah spoke out of experience when he foretold in vision how the Messiah would die: “Like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.” (Is 53:7) — Today as we enter upon Passion Week, let us bear in mind this symbol of Christ as a lamb, and during the narrative of His passion and death see how well it was fulfilled. (Father Robert F. McNamara). Fr. Tony (http://frtonyshomilies.com/) 2021. L/21
2. Fr. Jude Botelho:
In the first part of this service we remember Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem acclaimed by all the people. We could dwell on the thoughts of those who were present there. Firstly there are the disciples and the crowds, which were growing in their admiration of Jesus the master. They must have been particularly happy to see their master thus publicly acknowledged by the multitude. Then there are the Jewish leaders who understood what was happening as the crowds proclaimed: "Hosanna to the Son of David." They wanted Jesus to silence the crowd but he didn't. Then there is Jesus himself and his thoughts were very different from those of his disciples and the crowd. He did gratefully accept the praises of the people since they were sincere, but these praises did not make him proud. He still remained humble and that is the reason he comes on a donkey fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah.
Triumph and Tragedy
In 1978 President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize. The award was given to them for their joint efforts to reduce Mideast hostilities by framing and signing the U.S. mediated Camp David peace accord. The agreement was an unprecedented move on Sadat's part because he was the first major Arab leader to accept Israel's existence as a sovereign state. Only five years earlier, in 1973, he was hailed as a hero for successfully sending Egyptian forces across the Suez Canal to recapture Israeli-occupied territories. But in 1978 Sadat was called a traitor by Arab radicals. President Sadat was assassinated by some Arab extremists in 1981. Ironically, he was killed while viewing a parade to celebrate the anniversary of the 1973 battle that had made him an Arab hero. The life and death of Anwar Sadat suggest some striking similarities to the life and death of Jesus, similarities that stand out on Palm Sunday. For both Sadat and Jesus had loyal followers who acclaimed them, but also enemies who eventually killed them. Both men entered their final scene to sounds of triumph, only to depart from it on a note of tragedy.
Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'
In the first reading the prophet Isaiah, who lived seven hundred years before Christ, wrote about the sufferings of the suffering servant in such detail that one would have thought that he was an eye witness of the passion and death of Jesus Christ himself. The spirit of God prompted him to say and write as he did. In particular, in today's reading, Isaiah will highlight one key aspect of the suffering servant of Yahweh that he would be obedient and uncomplaining in his acceptance of whatever he had to endure. In all that he suffered he would trust in his Father and surrender to His will.
As we listen to the narrative of the passion we need to remind ourselves that the gospels were not written at a stretch but gradually. The account of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus were among the very first sections of the Gospels to be put into writing as nothing was dearer to the followers than to recall and relive the very last moments of Jesus and all that he had said and done before he died. On listening to the narrative of the passion, those Christians and millions of others were empowered and fortified to remain faithful to Jesus in times of persecution. We too, as we listen to the narrative of the passion will find the courage and strength to carry our own crosses and follow after him. As we enter into his passion we need to make an act of faith. Jesus died but he still lives on and continues to be in our midst. During Holy Week Jesus comes in a special way not only to listen to us but also to speak to us and to work in us and through us. Times have changed and the settings have changed. There are no apostles and no Jews but we have taken their place. Jesus is undergoing his passion today through the people who suffer, those who are unjustly condemned to death; those who are betrayed by their very own; those who suffer for their stand against aggression, injustices, human rights; those who are manipulated by power hungry forces; those who are the victims of war; victims of terrorism; the narrative of the passion is unfolding in our very times. May our meditation on the passion and death of Jesus Christ lead us and all those who suffer, into the fullness of the Resurrection.
The people, in them I see the face of God
In one of his plays Padraig Pearse tells the story of Mac Dara, the Singer, who returns home and tells his old school teacher Maoilsheachlainn about his loss of faith. "Once as I knelt at the cross of Kilgobbin, it became clear to me with awful clearness, that there was no God. Why pray after that? I burst into a fit of laughter at the folly of men in thinking there is a God. I felt inclined to run through the village and cry aloud, "People, it is all a mistake. There is no God." Then I said, 'Why take away their illusion? If they find there is no God, their hearts will be as lonely as mine.' So I walked the roads with my secret." To which Maoilsheachlainn replied, "Mac Dara, I am sorry for this. You must pray, you must pray. You will find God again. He has only hidden his face from you." "No," said Mac Dara, "He has revealed his face to me, the people, Maoilsheachlainn, the dumb, suffering people. In them I saw or seemed to see again the face of God." In the people and his concern that his unbelief might disturb their simple faith, Mac Dara rediscovered the face of God.
James A Feeban from 'Story Power'
Do you think he loved me?
Manning and Brennen were part of a platoon in Vietnam making their way through the jungle when, suddenly, Manning was sent flying into the bushes, when Brennen threw himself on the ground. There was a terrific explosion, as a landmine blew Brennen to bits, and Manning escaped without a mark. Manning was deeply shocked, of course, but he was also profoundly overcome that his friend had sacrificed his own life for him. His right foot was just about to come down on the mine when Brennen spotted it, and dived. His intention was to get Manning out of the way, but it was impossible to do that without throwing himself in the line of fire. When Manning returned to the US, he joined a branch of the Franciscans, called Canons Regular and took 'Brennen' as his religious name. Some years after his ordination, he was visiting the mother of his friend Brennen, who was now quite old. She was a quiet little woman, and constant prayer was her daily sustenance. By way of saying something during a lull in the conversation, Manning turned to her and asked, "Do you think that he really loved me?" The quiet little woman sprang to life, was on her feet, and was pointing a finger into his face as she spoke with a clear firm voice: "Don't you ever ask me that question again. Of course he loved you. Didn't he die for you? What further proof could you need?"
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'
I have already died
Henri Nouwen tells of a Lutheran Bishop who was imprisoned in a German concentration camp during World War II and beaten by an SS Officer in order to extract a confession from him about his political action. The beatings continued to increase in intensity, but the bishop maintained his silence. Finally, the infuriated officer shrieked, "Don't you know that I can kill you?" The bishop looked into the eyes of his torturer and said, "Yes, I know -do what you want - but I have already died." Instantly as though paralyzed, the officer could no longer raise his arm. It was as if power over the bishop had been taken from him. All his cruelties had been based on the assumption that the bishop's physical life was his most precious possession and therefore he would be willing to make any concession to save it. But with the grounds for violence gone, torture was futile.
Anthony Castle in 'More Quotes and Anecdotes'
Ready to die that others may live
There was a report of a coal mining accident. Many miners escaped with their lives, but three men were trapped somewhere deep within the earth's crust. Whether they were dead or alive no one knew. What made the accident even more frustrating was the presence of intense heat and noxious gases within the mine itself. If the rocks had not crushed them, they very well would have been asphyxiated by the fumes or killed by the heat. Two days went by before a search expedition was allowed to even enter the mine because of heat and fumes. Even then there was a great danger in store for anyone who would dare descend into what could be a deep black grave. A brief interview was conducted with one of the members of the search expedition as he was preparing to enter the mine. A reporter asked him, "Sir, are you aware of the noxious gases and the extreme danger of the mines." The fireman replied, "Yes, I am aware." The reporter asked again, "Are you still going down?" And the man replied, "The men may still be alive." Without another word of explanation he put on his gas mask, climbed into the elevator and descended into the black inferno of the mine. That rescuer put his life on the line that others might live. That's what Jesus did - by entering Jerusalem, He put his life on the line that others might have life.
John Rose in 'John's Sunday Homilies'
Specially for you
The young man was at the end of his rope. Seeing no way out, he dropped to his knees in prayer. "Lord, I can't go on," he said. "I have too heavy a cross to bear." The Lord replied, "My son, if you can't bear its weight, just place your cross inside this room. Then, open that other door and pick out any cross you wish." The man was filled with relief. "Thank you, Lord," he sighed, and he did as he was told. Upon entering the other door, he saw many crosses, some so large the tops were not visible. Then, he spotted a tiny cross leaning against a far wall. "I'd like that one, Lord," he whispered. And the Lord replied, "My son, that is the cross you just brought in."
We join our sufferings to those of Christ, then they make sense
A.J. Cronin tells of his days as a medical officer to the Welsh mining company in his book Adventures in Two Worlds. I have told you of Olwen Davies, the middle aged district nurse who for more than twenty years, with fortitude and patience, calmness and selflessness, served the people of Tregenny. This unconscious selflessness, which above all seemed the keynote of her character, was so poorly rewarded, it worried me. Although she was much beloved by the people, her salary was most inadequate. And late one night after a particularly strenuous case, I ventured to protest to her as we drank a cup of tea together. "Nurse," I said, "Why don't you make them pay you more? It is ridiculous that you should work for so little." She raised her eyebrows slightly. But she smiled. "I have enough to get along." "No, really," I persisted, "you ought to have an extra pound a week at least. God knows you are worth it." There was a pause. Her smile remained, but her gaze held a gravity which startled me. "Doctor," she said, "if God knows I am worth it, that's all that matters to me." - Are we content to do our work in silence, knowing that God knows our efforts, concerns and sufferings?
Gerard Fuller in 'Stories for All Seasons'
3. From Sermons.com
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. After forty days of Lenten travel that have often focused on serious and sometimes dark subjects, suddenly we arrive at a day that seems at first blush to be surprisingly cheery. The Palm Sunday parade has color and spectacle, cheering and singing, festive voices and joyful exuberance. This seems like a happy day. Yet it would be completely appropriate if you were to ask, "What in the world is this day doing here given how close we are now to the cross!?" Is Palm Sunday a bright spot in the midst of the otherwise darker hues of Lent? Are we, for just a little while this morning, supposed to forget about all things dreary so that we can cry out some full-throated "Hosannas!"? Or is there also a sadness to this day that we must bear in mind?
Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations
We Are Responsible for a Dead Church
There's an old story of the boy who stood on a sidewalk, waiting on a bus. A man walking by spotted the boy, and gave him some gentle instruction. "Son," he said, "if you're waiting on the bus, you need to move to the street corner. That's where the bus stops for passengers."
"It's OK," said the boy. "I'll just wait right here, and the bus will stop for me."
The man repeated his argument, but the boy never moved. Just then, the bus appeared. Amazingly, the bus pulled over to where the boy stood, and the child hopped on. The man on the sidewalk stood speechless. The boy turned around in the doorway and said, "Mister, I knew the bus would stop here, because the bus driver is my dad!"
When you've got a family relationship with the bus driver, you don't need a bus stop. If your mother is a US Senator, you won't need an appointment to slip into her office. If you've given your heart to the King of Kings, you're in a royal family of unspeakable proportions.
Studying Sargent's brass relief, one could better understand why Cicero wrote that crucifixion was the "most heartless and most harrowing" manner of execution.
This solitary work by the master artist Sargent was a fulfillment of the line of a priest who said so prophetically, "The world can never get away from that strange Man on the cross."
The crucifixion was of a type that I had never seen before. It had been made for the Boston Public Library about 1899. Beneath each of the outstretched arms of the Christ, there stood a figure. One was clearly the young disciple John. The other was a woman, no doubt His mother.
Each one held a chalice. They were catching His precious blood as it flowed from His hands wounded by the nails. They obviously wished to collect each and every drop of it.
The right foot of the Saviour was standing on a serpent. He was meant by Sargent to be a symbol for Satan. By His death Jesus the Christ had bested him.
Sargent had himself squeezed a great deal of theology into one brass relief. For me, John Singer Sargent had brought some fresh insights into the horrible and painful death of the Messiah. It was also the case for other spectators. Many stood around his crucifixion work studying every detail. No one spoke. They were transfixed. They better understood I think the awesome price the redemption had cost the Christ.
Yet, I do think Mr Sargent would have been surprised to learn that the cross did not appear as a Christian symbol till about the fifth century. Many archaeological digs have discovered early Christian symbols other than the cross. One thinks immediately of the ever-popular fish whose Greek letters stand for "Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour." There was the anchor which symbolized hope for the early Christians. And there were various types of Christograms. These were the first letters of Jesus Christ in Greek placed one on top of the other. But there were no crosses to be found among these early century finds.
Why? No less an authority than Dominican Father Jerome Murphy O'Connor, a professor at the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, answers the question for Catholic News Services. "The cross at the time," he says, "was being used for crucifixion and torture. To wear it around one's neck would be like wearing a miniature electric chair around your neck today. The idea was repulsive." Furthermore, many Christians felt it would be dreadful to utilize a symbol of sheer disgrace for their flourishing creed. Other scholars confirm Fr Murphy O'Connor's view. Some observers also go on to declare that if the Christians were to wear a cross, they would be inviting serious troubles from the police. They would be broadcasting the fact that they were indeed the followers of the Christ - Him who had been crucified outside Jerusalem by the Romans. So wisely they chose the more subtle symbols of the fish, the anchor, and the Christograms. These were codes that those who did not follow Jesus Christ would not fathom. These early centuries were of course the period in which the Christians underwent serious persecutions for their faith.
In the fourth century, the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Happily he brought an abrupt halt to the centuries-old barbarous crucifixion. Then and only then did Christians accept the cross as their universal symbol. But intriguingly Fr Murphy O'Connor asserts it took another two centuries before the Christ figure was placed on that cross. The why of it remains a mystery.
As we begin this solemn week, we should carry with us this refrain: no one is too bad to be forgiven.
On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn't believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be all right.