Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23:56
Today is “Palm Sunday”. We bless palms before the Mass to remember the people of Jerusalem who carried palms as they welcomed excitedly Jesus into their city. However, this day is also called “Passion Sunday” because during the Mass we relive the brutal rejection and condemnation that our Lord experienced in Jerusalem. It is quite ironic that many of the people who welcomed Jesus were also the ones who abandoned him.
The liturgy of the palms and the liturgy of the passion somehow illustrate the inconsistency of human responses to Christ throughout history. Sometimes people welcome Jesus into their lives; other times they deny him or drive him away. And we ask: What could be some reasons of people’s inconsistency in following Christ?
One possible reason is self-centeredness. The people of Jerusalem had selfish motivations in receiving Jesus. They got interested in him because they learned about the wonderful miracles he performed. They welcomed him thinking that he also would do something good for them. Many thought he could be the king who would deliver them from the bondage of the Roman occupiers. However, when they realized that Jesus would not do what they wanted him to do, they abandoned him. In fact, the crowd was no longer there when Jesus needed them most.
We are not totally different from the selfish people of Jerusalem. Sometimes we treat the Lord as if he is an agent of rescue 911. We only call on him in times of need, in times of crisis. But during happy and prosperous days, we could barely find time for Christ and his Church. When the Lord calls us to help the poor and the unwanted or when the Church needs us to enliven the Christian community, we are not always responsive.
Another possible cause of people’s halfhearted discipleship is fear of discomfort and suffering. The people of Jerusalem changed their attitude towards Jesus upon learning that religious authorities were planning to have him arrested or killed. In the midst of persecution, they no longer wished to be known as his followers. For fear of his life, even Peter denied any association with Jesus.
Sometimes we also are like Peter and the Jerusalem crowd. We try to avoid trials, challenges, or conflicts while following the Lord. We participate in Church related activities if they help maintain our security. But not when they disturb our comfort zones or when they lead us to struggle for the poor and needy. A “trouble-free” type of discipleship is not good because genuine Christian life includes not only devotional practices and liturgical celebrations but also actions in behalf of social justice and peace.
Still another possible reason why people waver in following Christ is lack of trust. Many of those who welcomed the Lord in Jerusalem believed in his miracles, but they didn’t have enough faith in him. They changed loyalties because Jesus was running directly against the strongest opposition. How could he defeat the military might of the Romans and the religious leaders of the Jews? They didn’t trust that Jesus had the power over all things and that he can save them from darkness and sin.
How often also do we lack faith in the saving power of Christ? We pray whenever we need something, but when our prayers are not granted we begin to doubt if the Lord really exists. In times of serious accidents or great calamities, we also begin to question if Jesus really cares. Our insecurities often lead us to believe in superstitions and to consult the opinions of quack doctors who serve other gods. How little is our faith! If we really accept Jesus as the Son of God or as Lord of the universe, why do we question his will? If we really believe that he is the Compassionate God or the Good Shepherd, why do we feel insecure in life?
During this Holy Week, the Church would like us to reflect prayerfully on the person of Jesus and his salvific act, and to thank the Lord sincerely for showing us what it means to be a true child of God. We need to highlight at least three important points:
First, a true child of God is one who is others-oriented, not selfish. Even during his darkest hour, Jesus continued to think of the good of others: he encouraged the disciples (Lk 22:28-30), comforted the women of Jerusalem (23:27-31), forgave his persecutors (23:34), and promised salvation to the repentant thief (23:42-43).
Second, a true child of God is willing to suffer for the well-being of others. Jesus was fully aware that his going to Jerusalem was like marching to his passion, one that would cost him his life. But Jesus was not deterred from entering the city of David because he felt the need to raise his ultimate challenge to the people to accept the good news of the kingdom of God.
Finally, a true child of God puts his trust completely in God. Jesus remained steadfast while undergoing the most serious trial of his life. At the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus in anguish sweated blood while praying so fervently: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Then, after hours of agonizing pain on the cross, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). Here was a child who remained faithful to his Heavenly Father up to the end.
After watching Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, a father asked his child “What would you think of someone who isn’t moved deeply by what we saw?” The young kid responded, “He would be evil.”