Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – 16
Is.50:4-7, Phili.2:6-11, Lk.22:14 – 23:56
The Church celebrates today as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. It is on Palm Sunday that we enter Holy Week and welcome Jesus into our lives, asking him to allow us a share in his suffering, death and Resurrection.
This is also the time we remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation. That is why the Holy Week liturgy presents us with the actual events of the dying and rising of Jesus.
In the old liturgy, before Vatican II, the reading of the Passion was greeted with total silence. There was no homily. Even the concluding acclamation: “This is the gospel of the Lord” was omitted. On a day like this, I sometimes feel that the most eloquent response to the word of God we have proclaimed is silence.
Even the best of homilies could be a distraction from the deep meditation in which many of us find ourselves at the end of the story of the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. But then also, a homily might be useful to direct and focus our meditation in the right direction.
Otherwise we might be like little Johnny who was failing all his exams in the public school until his parents decided to send him to a Catholic school. At the end of the year Johnny came out on top of the class.
When his parents asked him what made him change so dramatically Johnny replied, “You see, the moment I walked into that new school and saw that guy hanging on the cross, I knew that the people here were dead serious; so I decided not to take any chances.”
The crucifix might have helped Johnny to improve his scores but it is easy to see that Johnny has misread the crucifix. The man on the cross is not there to scare little boys but to show them how much he loves them.
He is not there to show them what would happen to them if they misbehaved; he is there to show them that he has already paid the penalty for their sins. He is not dying on the cross for what he has done but for what you and I have done; because he loves us. He died for us.
“He died for us:” Many of us have heard this phrase so many times that it now carries with it neither the shock of someone dying on account of what we have done nor the good news of our being delivered from death. For us to hear this message again today as for the first time, the story of a man who literally died for the misdeeds of his brother might help.
Two brothers lived together in the same apartment. The elder brother was an honest, hard-working and God-fearing man and the younger a dishonest, gun-toting, substance-abusing rogue.
Many a night the younger man would come back into the apartment late, drunk and with a lot of cash and the elder brother would spend hours pleading with him to mend his ways and live a decent life. But the young man would have none of it.
One night the junior brother runs into the house with a smoking gun and blood-stained clothes. “I killed a man,” he announced. In a few minutes the house was surrounded by police and the two brothers knew there was no escape. “I did not mean to kill him,” stammered the young brother, “I don’t want to die.” By now the police were knocking at the door.
The senior brother had an idea. He exchanged his clothes with the blood-stained clothes of his killer brother. The police arrested him, tried him and condemned him to death for murder. He was killed and his junior brother lived. He died for his brother.
Can we see that this story of crime and death is basically a story of love? Similarly, the story of the suffering and death of Jesus which we heard in the Passion is basically a story of love – God’s love for us. How should we respond to it?
Well, how would you expect the junior brother to respond to the death of the senior brother? We would expect him to respond with GRATITUDE. Gratitude to his generous brother should make him turn a new life and never go back to a life of crime.
He would be a most ungrateful person if he should continue living the sort of life that made his brother die. Gratitude should make him keep the memory of his brother alive.
No day should pass that he should not remember his brother who died for him. Finally, if the dead brother has got a wife and children we should expect the saved brother, out of gratitude, to love and care for them.
What God expects from us today is gratitude – gratitude strong enough to make us hate sin of every shade and color; strong enough to make us translate our love of God into love of all of God’s people.
There is a Jewish saying, “Heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner and sheds tears over a non-repentant, hardhearted one.” Let us get ready to imitate the prodigal son, return to God, our loving Father through the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this last week of Lent, and participate fully in the joy of Christ’s Resurrection. Amen.