05 April 2009

NOT ABOUT PALM BRANCHES BUT ABOUT DISCIPLESHIP

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Mk 14: 1-15:47


We gather to remember the passion of the Lord Jesus, praying that by remembering we enter into its very mystery. We gather to express our deepest appreciation for the love that opposed violence, the love that endured violence. We gather to give thanks for that love and to show our solidarity with people who are victims of violence because of their heroic love.

The cross of Jesus has not yet been dismantled; the passion He endured is far from over. In the midst of life, the cross stands not as a mere ritual decoration but as a reminder of the cost the world demands from those who oppose its ways through the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Could Jesus have avoided the cross? Could He have taken a detour instead of heading straight to Calvary? Could He have saved Himself from the violence He suffered and instead lived a quiet life in Galilee? Did His merciful love really need the cross?

Jesus did not look for the cross; the world looked at the cross instead as its way of eliminating Jesus. The cross is not the Father’s idea; the cross, rather, is the final solution that the enemies of Jesus thought about. God is not a bloodthirsty monster who desired the death of His beloved Son. But when He gave us His only begotten Son, the Father gave up His Son not only to become human but also to live a truly human life. And what is human life?

True, human life is full of many wonderful things, but it is also true that human life is marked by uncertainties and arbitrariness. Uncertainties and arbitrariness – these are two of our sad experiences in life. We are never certain of many things, including the number of our days and even how our days will end. We may plan but our plan cannot have the finality of certitude until it actually happens. The arbitrariness of life makes the uncertainty of life even worse. Not all things in life are governed by logical expectations: in this life, good people do not necessarily prosper while the wicked are not always punished. In sharing our humanity, Jesus likewise and truly shared in the uncertainties and arbitrariness of our earthly life. In fact, the greater proof of Jesus’ humanity is His sharing in our experience of life’s uncertainties and arbitrariness. Uncertainties and arbitrariness – such is our cross; it is also Jesus’.

On the first Palm Sunday, the people shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Acclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah, the Christ, they waved palm branches and spread their cloaks for Jesus to walk on. But five days later, we hear them chanting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” That – that is what we call uncertainty. And come to think of it, was life fair with Jesus? He surely was an unwilling victim of life’s arbitrariness: He healed many yet many hit Him real hard; He helped many but many jeered at Him; He showed mercy to many yet many showed Him no mercy at all; He raised people to life but people raised Him on a cross. Having done not even a single wrong, Jesus suffered and was killed nonetheless. Such is the arbitrariness of life.

Amazing love! It chose to die than not love at all. Jesus could have taken a detour and not entered into Jerusalem as His disciples advised Him. But instead, we see Him entering Jerusalem with pomp and cheering in fulfillment of the prophecy regarding the much-awaited Messiah. He did not disguise Himself and quietly slipped through the backdoor. He even led a parade through Jerusalem!

Jesus decided to face the power that opposed Him. And when He did so, He showed suffering to the forefront. If He were to avoid suffering, He must avoid facing the authorities. To do so, He had to turn a blind eye to the sufferings of people and conspire with the violence of oppressive silence. But precisely because that was not His choice, His love in itself became the victim of suffering. He could have kept Himself away from suffering by being insensitive to the sufferings of others, by clinging to His divinity, by refusing to have anything to do with us, by sharing in the likeness of our nature but not in the uncertainties and arbitrariness of our life. Yet, again, that was not His choice, and that is precisely the reason why we gather today.

We gather today to remember. We are a people of remembrance. This is the command we received from Jesus Himself: “Do this in memory of Me.” This means that when we gather to “Break Bread”, we must remember Jesus, and faith tells us that Jesus becomes present again in our midst. But this command to remember is not exclusively about the Eucharistic meal. It also means that when we remember suffering, for example, our memory becomes a protest. Remembering suffering today urges a tomorrow that is not a mere repetition of the past. That is why the memory of suffering is dangerous: in the very act of remembering the suffering of the victim is the protest that this should not happen again. No one deserves death.

The memory of the passion of Jesus teaches us to pay attention to the sufferings, not only of Jesus, but also of others. Of course, we cannot eradicate suffering entirely, much more by ourselves alone, but what do with the pain of those, at least, within our reach? Do we make it own just as Jesus made ours His? Are we another Jesus to them?

Waving palm branches today is not only a symbol of welcoming Jesus. It is, rather, a very deep token of our discipleship. Jesus was already welcomed two thousand years ago; let us now follow Him unto Calvary. Let us be like Him. Let us die and rise to life with Him. Palm Sunday is not a day of dramatizing our welcoming of Jesus, but a day of reaffirming our following of Him. This day is not about palm branches as it is about Christian discipleship. The holy palm branches we wave today will wither in just a matter of days, but may we, in our resolve to follow Jesus, to strive to become more and more like Jesus, and to love like Jesus, in the face of life’s uncertainties and arbitrariness, never waiver.

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