Isaiah 50: 4 – 7
Philippians 2: 6 – 11
Gospel Mark 14: 1 – 15, 47
With the celebration of Palm Sunday, we begin a week of a lot of activity, a week of much tension, anguish and turmoil a week of experience of various sentiments culminating a sense of great relief. We hold palms in our hands, walk in procession acclaiming Jesus as our King. But with whom are you identifying this week with the twelve disciples, at the Last Supper, with Judas Iscariot, with those who disputed who was the greatest among them, with Simon who said, “Lord I a ready to go with you to prison and to death”, but later denied him three times, with the three closest disciples of Jesus who could not keep awake while Jesus was going through agony on the Mount of Olives, with Judas who betrayed him with a kiss for thirty pieces of silver, with the maid who said referring to Peter “This man also was with him”, with the cock who crowed, with those who mocked him, beat him and humiliated him, with the chief priests and scribes, with Pilate who washed his hands, with Herod who had long desired to see him, with those who preferred Barabbas to Jesus, with those who cried “Crucify him, crucify him!”, with Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus to carry His cross, with the women who bewailed and lamented him, with veronica who wiped his face with a cloth, with the criminals who were crucified beside Jesus, with the criminal who mocked him, with the criminal who prayed, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power”, with Joseph of Arimathea who helped lower the body of Jesus, with John the beloved disciple who took Mary as his mother and with Mary the mother of Jesus who accompanied him throughout his agony, passion and death? This week you cannot be a passive spectator. You have to be involved in the happenings of the Holy Week. You cannot be a passive spectator. You have to be involved in the happenings of the Holy Week. But what is your part, your place and role in this?
“He was oppressed and was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth” (Is 53:7). For the followers of Christ, this Isaiah text evokes a response deep down within us, seeing how they apply to God’s only beloved Son, and how he died for all of us. In the words of St Peter, “without having seen him you have come to believe in him, and so you are filled already with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described” (1 Pet 1:8). Without this sincere love of Christ, we are no true followers of his. We cannot say we fully love him, until we appreciate what he suffered for us.
Today, having heard the Passion narrative there is no real necessity to retrace in great detail the events there described. But it is well to bear in mind that Christ was no stranger to hardship, privation and suffering, long before that final day of his life. “Being in the form of God,” as St Paul says, from the moment he came on earth, Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are (Phil 2:6f). He, the most high God, suffered the hardships of the poor, at times not even having a place to lay his head. He endured hunger and thirst, and after long days surrounded by crowds seeking a cure, he often spent whole nights at prayer in the hills. Despite his compassion for all who came to him, he met with hatred and rejection, in particular from Pharisees and priests, who planned to have him killed. How this rejection and hatred must have grieved him. King Lear knew “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is, to have a thankless child;” and how must Jesus have felt at being rejected by the people he had chosen, above all others.
So terrible was the inner struggle of Jesus as he faced his death, that in the garden his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. Another bitter pill was the knowledge that one of his own circle of twelve would betray him, that most of the others would leave him, and that even the loyal St Peter would repeatedly swear he had never met him. But most terrible of all was his feeling of being abandoned by God, his inner spirit shrouded in a darkness that reflected the murky darkness that enveloped Calvary as the end drew near. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The features of that face so cruelly disfigured were those of the Son of God. The forehead streaming with blood, the hands and feet nailed to the Cross, the body lacerated with scourges, the side pierced with a lance, these were the forehead, the hands and feet, the sacred body, the side of the eternal Word, made visible in Jesus. Why such suffering? We can only say with Isaiah, “It was for our transgressions he was smitten, for our sins he was brought low. On him lay the punishment that brings us healing, through his wounds we are made whole” (53:5ff). God, our Father, grant that your Son’s suffering for us may not be in vain.
The story we have just heard invites us to identify with those who saw Jesus with the eyes of faith and love, who recognized the light of God in the darkness of Jesus’ passion and death. When we look upon the passion and death of Jesus with such eyes, we see a divine love that is stronger than sin, a divine light that shines in all our darknesses, a divine power that brings new life out of all our deaths, a divine poverty that enriches us at the deepest level of our being. We have heard the story of Jesus’ last journey told in the space of ten minutes. This Holy Week, the church invites us to travel that journey at a much slower pace, day by day as it were. We are invited to enter into that journey with the eyes of the anointing woman, the centurion, Joseph of Arimathea and the group of faithful women. We look beneath the surface of what is happening, we listen deeply to all that is taking place, so as to recognize the good Shepherd who laid down his life for us all, so that we might have life.
Jesus protests like any ordinary victim: “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.” And then adds: “But so that the scriptures be fulfilled.”
The same confidence, as he entrusts himself to the Father, is expressed in the words: “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
He is silent before the trashy accusations, and then a thunderbolt: “I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
Did the historical Jesus affirm so clearly his status as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes, his Messiahhood, his expectation of being raised from the dead? Scholars quibble about this. But the entire personality and action of Jesus are imbued with supreme confidence in God and in his own unique mission, and at no point do they offer an opening for putting him in doubt. In the midst of a squalid, all too human story of cruelty and injustice, the power of the personality of Jesus comes across undeniably.
The Son of Man, obedient unto death, lived out his mission in the circumstances his time and place offered. In other circumstances, other times, with other kinds of messiness and confusion, we have the privilege of following him, finding a new style of living the way of the Cross, which leads to the glory of the Resurrection.
Wherever Jesus went He spread goodness. He was kind to the poor and the weak. There was happiness wherever Jesus went. As the followers of Jesus in 2021, are we able to spread the joy and goodness to the people around us? Even if we feel angry or irritated, let us offer it Jesus on the cross and still be gentle with others.
The only instruction which Jesus gave while He was in deep agony, sweating like blood wass to ‘Pray’. Focus on ‘praying’ alone this week. Spend prayer time, deeply thinking about how much pain our dear Lord Jesus would have undergone, just for you.
Sacrifice all entertainment on such social media. Our enemy is not sad when we take an oath to be good or to do good. He will be unhappy only if we really completely do them. The main tool he will use is lack of time. To snatch us from really coming near to God, He will tempt us, using these unwanted social media distractions.
Practice mental prayers often. Meditate on the passion of the Lord. If you are starting on this now, it will be difficult for you to focus on the many pains our Lord has undergone. I had the same trouble initially. So start by remembering one wound only. For example: Meditate only on the crucified feet of Jesus. ‘Blood is oozing out from them. There are holes in both His feet through which the nail is pierced. The weight of the whole body is resting on the feet. What a pain, my Jesus has taken up for me.’
Similar to Little Thérèse of the Child Jesus, offer your little pains for the salvation of the world. Do not waste the difficulties you undergo in your day-to-day life. The sufferings in your body, or taking care of kids or the financial constraints – offer them all! Offer them at the feet of our Lord Jesus for the salvation of sinners.
The road that Jesus trod on Palm Sunday was the same road he had always walked. It was the road of humility, of love, of patience, of hope, of encouragement. It was the way of salvation, not the way of the empire. It was the way of the kingdom, not of the king. It was the road to glory, not to government. It was the way of righteousness, not of Rome.
The crowd noticed that the Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was not the road to freedom that they expected. It as the road to sacrifice. It was not the road to power, it was the road to humility. It was not the road to fame; it was the road to death. It was not the road the crowd thought; it was the road God had planned.
We are the same way today. When we experience trials or certain hardships, and we suffer through various difficulties, and we get our eyes on our circumstances; when our focus is on everything around us that is wrong, we lose sight of Him and His purpose and we diminish in our praise and worship of Him.
God bless. Have a wonderful day.