[Palm Sunday, Year C, March 20, 2016 / Procession:Luke 19:28-40 / Isa 50:4-7 / Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24 / Phil 2:6-11 /Luke 22:14 – 23:56]
Today marks the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as he is about to enter his Passion. Jesus was greeted by crowds of well wishers, shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” He was riding on a donkey and the people laid down palm branches on the road and their cloaks, too. We commemorate this with our palms today. When the crowd were making so much noise some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” What a bunch of killjoys! Jesus said in reply, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!” A mother I know told me that her four year old son stepped on a rusty nail. He was wriggling and trying to evade his mother’s grasp so she could look at the wound. She freaked out and said, “Stepping on a rusty nail is an emergency. You could get tetanus and there is no cure.” The boy responded so calmly and confidently, “What about God?” The mother said to me, “Oh to have the faith of a child,” (after she took her son to the hospital for treatment which is also part of the will of God.)
Sometimes our relationship with the Lord is rather superficial such that he does not really enter into all the areas of our lives. We can change that!
Looking at Jesus we see that he is so determined to go to his Passion. He resolutely decided to go to Jerusalem. In his journey to the cross there are many obstacles. But Jesus never becomes a victim of self-pity. Self-pity is a terrible thing where we cast ourselves as the innocent victim and all the others as villains. When we are full of self-pity it is always the fault of the others, the Church, the Society, etc. Jesus does not fall into that trap. Imagine the moment when he is carrying his cross, bloodied and bruised and the women of Jerusalem mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me.” Later when Jesus was being crucified he said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
We see in Jesus the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” Where does Jesus get the strength to respond like that? The first reading today gives us the clue: “Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” It is the constant exercise of prayer, of listening to the Father in the moments of Gethsemane that prepares him for the battle. We need to pray more! Sometimes our life of prayer is half hearted – we will try to pray but not if it compromises our schedule, relaxation or sleep.
Perhaps the beginning of the Passion can help us understand why Jesus goes to the cross. It is to free us from all that crucifies us. Why does he forgive? Many times we are enchained by rancor. We move so slowly in the spiritual life because we tolerate and allow our hearts to carry heavy loads of grudges and bad thoughts. Jesus goes to the cross to crucify all that stops us truly loving. In man there is a real tendency to inertia.
I was speaking to some people once who told me that they lack energy and enthusiasm. They felt trapped in themselves. One young man said that he was a prisoner in himself, in his shyness but wanted to break free. Where can I get the energy and strength to break free from myself? Another was stuck in the quicksand of laziness, staying at home watching TV, “slowly dying in a quagmire of apathy,” as he put it.
Jesus goes to his passion to save us from apathy, from living a mediocre life! He does not want us to be lukewarm in this one, short life! He is the force we need to escape the gravitational pull of our selfishness and laziness. Like a rocket that wants to enter the stratosphere, it needs a powerful engine. It burns up a lot of fuel to escape the pull of gravity.
We need to enter the Passion of Christ, to enter into his heart and his motivations – this is the motor of love we need. We are not called to view the events of the next week at a distance. Let us try to enter into the Passion this week with Jesus.