01 April 2007

BUT A PALM OF DIFFERENCE

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Lk 22:14-23:56

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion and re-enact the triumphant entry of Jesus to Jerusalem, the city of the Great King, no less than the Messiah Himself. In our liturgy today, there are two Gospel Readings: one for the blessing of palms and the other for the Mass proper. Both Gospel readings focus on the one person of Jesus Christ. But there is something strange about the kind of Jesus we see today. The Jesus we see today seems to be different from the Jesus we used to know.

Let me explain.

Today, Palm Sunday, begins the week we call holy. At first hearing, “holy” seems to be an odd word to define this week when the most unholy events in history took place. Jesus, the Son of God, was arrested, accused and sentenced as guilty by a questionable trial, and crucified like a criminal. Should not this week be called “Unholy Week” instead of “Holy Week”? Should we not rather mourn than celebrate? But the procession of palms and festive hymns that color today’s liturgy are anything but sad. Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion is a feast to say the least.

Indeed that is how it should be today because that is what the first Palm Sunday was for Jesus Himself. Entering the city of Jerusalem, the heart of Jesus swelled with joy, acknowledging the people’s daring tribute given Him: “Hossana to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hossana!” The crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover, hailed Him with songs, cheers, and palm branches, acclaiming Him the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, liberator of Israel. Believe me, our Palm Sunday procession stands pale in comparison with the noisy welcome Jesus then received.

The Lord’s entry to Jerusalem was certainly not a staged event; however, it was one for which Jesus had carefully prepared. He was aware that an adoring crowd would line His path from Mount Olives to Jerusalem, and for this once Jesus was willing, even eager, to bask in their applause. He indeed entered Jerusalem like a king, but, as if wanting to remind His admirers that He was the Messiah, more than the king of Israel, He arrived in the city mounted on an ass in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

This is exactly what I meant when I said earlier that the Jesus we see today seems to be different from the Jesus we used to know. Remember the Transfiguration event? After Jesus revealed His real and glorious identity to three of His closest friends, did He not bind them to secrecy? In the story of the multiplication of the five barley loaves and two small fish that fed about five thousand men and yielded leftovers that filled twelve baskets, did not Jesus withdraw to a mountain after the miracle because He sensed that the satisfied crowd wanted to make Him king? Prior to today, Jesus had shunned the title of Messiah, revealing His identity only to close disciples, and throughout His public ministry, He did nothing that might be regarded as a grab for power. He never itched for high office or public acclaim. He had neither fetish for dramatic entrances nor illusions for grandeur.

But today seems to be an exemption. He allowed the crowd to shout their praises of Him, hailing Him as the Son of David who comes in the name of the Lord and on a mission of peace. Some Pharisees saw the possibility of a riot caused by the uproar He was creating and ordered Him to silence the mob. Jesus refused. For if the crowd were to quiet down, the stones themselves would shout His praises, said He.

Evidently, there is a change from the Jesus who used to shy away from the people’s acclamation to the Jesus who now enjoys the people’s adulation. Of course, it is still the same Jesus. But why the change in His behavior? Listen carefully, for this is one of the most important lessons of the Holy Week.

Today, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Jesus wants the whole world to know that His enemies did not catch Him with His pants down. Instead, He walked into the hands of His enemies willingly, with eyes wide open. He knew what awaits Him the moment He sets foot on His enemies’ domain. A wise man can easily see that the crowd that strained their lungs with songs and shouts of joyful praises of Him was enough proof that Jesus could, if He wished, lead a revolt against His enemies. But He was in control of His destiny, and He chose not to do so.

The point is vital. Jesus faced Calvary in freedom. He willingly accepted the cross. We proclaim this truth in every Mass when the priest re-tells the story of the institution of the Holy Eucharist: “Before He was given up to death, a death He freely accepted….” Indeed, Jesus embraced the cross freely, for if it were not so, where would be the merit? What was the difference between Jesus and the two thieves who were crucified with Him on that first Good Friday? One may say that what distinguished Jesus from the two thieves crucified with Him was that they were guilty while Jesus was not. Okay, but more importantly, those two thieves could not escape, but would have if they could while Jesus could have escaped, but did not.
I recall that some years back, a controversial movie, entitled “The Last Temptation of Jesus”, was shown in theatres despite the strong objection of Church authorities. I saw the movie myself. The movie suggested that, while crucified at Calvary, Jesus wrestled with a final temptation to come down from the cross, forget about His redemptive mission, and settle into marriage with Mary Magdalene who would give Him children. Many people jumped into conclusion and said that the last temptation of Jesus was about sexual in nature. They were gravely mistaken. This is the last temptation of Jesus: to escape, for after all, He could. I believe that all through His earthly life, Jesus had to wrestle with the alluring idea to run away from His mission or, at least, to short-circuit it by taking the easier way through the use of His inherent power as Son of God. From day one in the desert up until to the final day on Calvary, this was Jesus’ perennial battle. Remember, after tempting Jesus but never succeeding, the devil left Jesus, Scripture says, only to come back on the appointed time. Holy Week is the appointed time.

When the soldiers came to arrest Him in the garden, Jesus went forth to meet them. When Peter tried to fight back, cutting the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus commanded him to put his sword back to its scabbard. When interrogated by the Sanhedrin and by Pilate, Jesus answered boldly, affirming His origin, His kingship, and His mission. On Calvary, He forgave His enemies and prayed for them rather than cursed them. Even as He Himself was suffering, He promised the good thief that he would be with Him in paradise that very day. Dying though He was, He provided for His mother’s care. Notice: At every moment of His Passion, Jesus, not His enemies, was really the one who was in command.

Jesus had time to turn back, but He went head on. He even had the chance to lead a popular revolt, but He Himself carried the cross instead. With full deliberation, Jesus chose to redeem us by the greatest and holiest act of persevering love, even stubborn love. He placed His life on the line for love of you and me. And that is the reason why we call this week “holy”. For holiness is the perfection of love.

The powerful love of Jesus made this week holy. Let us make one another’s life holy by the power of our love. While our blessed palms signify our allegiance to Jesus, the Messiah and King, they are nothing but beautifully arranged branches of palms unless we love like Jesus. It is not the agua bendita that makes us holy. We are made holy by our love. Be careful, we may be really missing this point, for there is only but a palm of difference between the two.

1 Comments:

At 9:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Fr.Bobby,

It was indeed a very long Homily. Our gratitude to Jesus is overwhelming by giving you the wisdom to share and let people understand the significance of Palm Sunday and the intricacies of how Jesus totally embraced His greatest mission, to redeem mankind. We pray that other priests could be gifted even half of what you have, for them to be equipped with the ability to send the message of God across the land. But I think this is just wishful thinking, because there is only one we know. Thank you so much Fr. Bobby, may the Good Lord bless and keep you in good health and strength always. My prayers... Rory

 

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