Sunday, April 5, 2020

Meditation and Reflection for Palm Sunday

Taken from A Catholic Moment:

On this Sixth Sunday of Lent, the Holy Mother the Church celebrates the Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. The Liturgy of the Word begins with a triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and closes with a narration of His passion. These two parallel events taking place in successive chronology is a reminder that Jesus is a triumphant King who gained His victory through the cross. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in a royal atmosphere is very symbolic. In fact it is a procession meant to contrast the procession of the powers of this world. Everything took place during the annual feast of the passover when pilgrims were congregating in Jerusalem. It was also a period when the Roman governor (pilate) entered Jerusalem with his cohort. Hence, it is good to know that there were two processions taking place within the same period. At one end, Jesus was entering with a peasant crowd and riding on a donkey (animal used by kings in those days whenever they were making a peaceful tour). At the other end, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor was entering the city with imperial troop to reinforce the Roman soldiers permanently stationed in the city as well as to guarantee security during the passover (Josephus, a Jewish historian contemporary with the Gospels’ authors, writes that on Passover, the population of Jerusalem swelled to more than two million).
The entry of Jesus has both a theological and political sensibility contrasting that of Roman authority. The text from the prophet Zachariah affirms that Jesus fulfills the prophesy of old through his purposeful entry as a King of peace riding on a donkey (Zech. 9:9-10). And the chant from the mammoth crowd was a royal chant that put accent to the Lordship of Christ, ” Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord…” Nonetheless, the entry of Jesus could also be interpreted as an indirect peaceful protest against against the oppression of the Romans over the Jews (political and economic dominance).
Jesus’ growing popularity fueled by the royal entry into Jerusalem will eventually become the centre of conflict during the period of passover. The Jews and the Romans would need to blend together for the purpose of achieving their aim that is, the elimination of Jesus:
For the Jews he is gaining root and dominance over the people through false teaching. He could not possibly be the Messiah. He is blasphemous and needs to die.
For the Romans, ‘this man is gaining popularity. We don’t know his intention. He could rise up one day and stir the crowd to fight us, so let’s eliminate him.

FIRST READING: Isaiah 50:1-4
Biblical scholars identified that between the chapters 40-55 of the book of the prophet Isaiah there are songs about a suffering servant. This servant is an unknown figure (no clear mention of his identity by Isaiah) whose mission was to bring relief to his people through his suffering. The chapter we read today (chap.50) is the third song of the servant narrating his experience of suffering but with hope in God his help. For christian theologians, Jesus’ suffering logically fulfils the experience of the servant, and his non-violent resistance to persecution finds its expression well articulated in the words, “…I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard…”
The page of Psalm 22 we read equally blends with the experience of the suffering servant. It was the cry of one who in the heat of suffering felt abandoned by his God, but later understood that his suffering was a necessary one (for just cause), and if necessary then it was permitted by God, and if permitted by God, then God cannot possibly abandon him. That is why the Psalm which started with complaint, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (V.1) ended with praise in the second part, ” I shall proclaim your name to my brothers, praise you in the great assembly…” (v.22-31). Jesus recited this Psalm from the altar of the Cross, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani” not as recited by every average Jew but as one who fulfills the words of the Psalmist.
We are therefore thought by the First Reading and the Psalm that suffering should not be strange to the servants of the Lord, and not to be considered as evil as long as it is for a just cause. Suffering receives a different meaning when it is united to the suffering of Christ. Thus, it is a call to accept what we cannot change and endure it with Christ who exchanges it for our salvation (read…Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, ” Salvifici doloris” on the Christian meaning of human suffering, 1984).

SECOND READING: Philippians 2:6-11
The second reading is Paul’s kerygma (proclamation of the gospel) about the true meaning of the suffering of Christ which he traced down to incarnation, thus the theology of “kenosis” (renunciation): “He emptied Himself and became human…” Paul envisions that it is necessary for the Christ to strip himself of glory so that He might be obedient to the Father in accepting the cross and death. And by this singular act, He became the Lord and Master over every creature in heaven, on earth and under the earth, and everything is subjected to his authority.
This high theology of Paul became an ancient hymn sung in christian gatherings which served as a catechesis on the nature of Christ (divine and human) and of his saving mission through suffering.
In this passage we learn that it does not matter the glory we possess now, for the true and lasting glory is gotten through humble submission to the will of God. It is by stripping ourselves of pride attached to our status and background (even though we have to pass through suffering) in order to serve God and humanity that we can possess the eternal glory won for us by Christ.

GOSPEL : Matthew 26-27
The second part of the gospel today is a narration of the passion of Christ that no doubt introduces us into a swing of emotion after the jubilant entry into Jerusalem. Interestingly, it is purposeful on two stands:
It liturgically introduces us to the mystery of the Holy Week (today’s sunday begins the Holy Week).
It theologically opens us to the true meaning of the kingship of Jesus…the glory of the King who rides on donkey does not lie in the Hossana of the crowd but in his passion and death through which God will exalt him high and give him a name above every name…St Paul).
Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection constituted the most important aspect of his life. It is the culmination of his saving mission and the centre of the Church’s liturgical life. According to the theologian Fr. Raymond E. Brown, “Theologically, Christians have interpreted the death of Jesus on the cross as the key element in God’s plan for the justification, redemption and salvation of all. Spiritually, the Jesus of the passion has been the focus of Christian meditation for countless would-be disciples who take seriously the demand of the Master to take up the cross and follow him…”[The Death of the Messiah, Vol. I, (Doubleday, New York: 1994).]
The beauty of the passion narrative does not just consist in its message relatively to Jesus, but it is a huge challenge to us as it invites us to examine our own lives in the light of some of the central characters in the narrative.

1. JUDAS WHO BETRAYED JESUS: The enemy within is always more dangerous and more powerful that the one outside. Judas gave Jesus’ enemies the key to unlock his secret. In one moment or the other we have played the role of Judas. Many persons have lost their positions and even their dignity in life simply because we shared to others the secret they confided in us.

2. PETER WHO DENIED JESUS: Peter repented of his sin but that was after a damage had been caused. It is often difficult to bear when those we love abandon us when we need them. We are Peter when we fail to denounce injustice meted on the other especially the defenceless. Yes we are Peter when we shy away from the truth that could save the life of the other. Even an act of indifference makes us Peters.

3. PILATE WHO ACTED AGAINST HIS CONSCIENCE: The Jews told him, “If you set this man free you are no more a friend of Cesar.” Pilate was power drunk. He didn’t want to lose his position of authority. He preferred being a friend to Cesar to setting an innocent man free. He struggled between conscience and personal ambition, and at the end his personal ambition won. Many of us love power, position and fame and can do anything to maintain it. Many people have died with guilty conscience because they kept covering up the truth that would have saved the life of the other, and because ‘they did not want to lose their job.’

4. HEROD WHO RIDICULED JESUS: Herod was a king in Galilea and because of his political alliance with the Romans he named the capital Tiberias, in honor of his patron, the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar. He would have influenced Pilate to save Jesus knowing that Jesus was from Galilee but because he wanted to seal friendship with Pilate and to gain the love of the Jews (the sanhedrin) he couldn’t. He pretended to help Jesus on the ground that He performs a miracle when he knew deep down that Jesus wouldn’t do that. He not only pushed Jesus back to Pilate but he equally subjected him to a thing of mockery.
Doing evil to improve our status can have eternal consequences. We will often be faced with the choice of doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing to gain the favor of someone powerful. Herod chose the latter, leading to the death of the Son of God. How often have we used the misfortune of others to improve our chances and opportunities?

5. THE LEADERS OF THE PEOPLE WHO FALSELY ACCUSED JESUS: The chief priests and the leaders of the people were against Jesus basically on certain reasons:
Social: aware of the social status of Jesus they refused to accept that the Messiah could come from such a background.
Political: They doubted the Messiahship of Jesus because his weak type was not the expected Messiah that should have liberated them from the hands of their political enemies and secure their territory from intruders.
Traditional: They were blinded by tradition and always making reference to the Law taught by Moses and bluntly refused the teaching of Jesus because they were full of themselves as doctors of the Law and ofcourse unaware of their erroneous interpretations.
Fear of losing their authority: Jesus was seen as a threat to their authority over the people. Flaunting themselves as head of the people, they could not afford to lose the honour and prestige they have always enjoyed. It is better to eliminate him than to feel humiliated by the people.
They accused him of many things and their last option was to exchange him with a notorious criminal, Barrabas.
We can go to any length to seek for our personal interest. It doesn’t matter whether it’s by hook or crook. We have often been misled by our personal convictions that we are better than others and because of this we refuse to be humble and to accept new ideas or to accept people who have backgrounds different from ours. We are not different from the sanhedrin that accused Jesus.

1. Simon of Cyrene by helping to carry the cross of those in need of our help.

2. Women of Jerusalem by mourning with those whose eyes are filled with tears, our neighbours whom the recent pandemic COVID-19 have taken their loved ones.

3. The good thief on the cross by recognizing ourselves as sinners and stop pointing accusing fingers at others. Above all, by asking to be at the side of Jesus always.

4. The centurion by beating our chest in regret for our past faults and by opening our eyes to the marvels of God and confessing Jesus as the Son of God to those around us.

As we begin this week of our redemption o Lord, help us to understand that you entered Jerusalem for our sake, so that contemplating the mystery of your suffering we may be drawn to the fulness of your glory. Amen.

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