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Sunday Readings for Apr. 17, 2011 (Palm)
By Fr. Orlando Sapuay, M.S.
On this day in the life of Jesus, it is the beginning of the week in which Passover will be celebrated in Jerusalem. Passover is one of the festivals in which all of Israel are expected to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Passover is still celebrated by Jews to this day. Celebrated in synagogues, and most particularly in homes, where their salvation from slavery in Egypt is remembered.
And then as now, remembering that the journey from oppression to freedom, from corruption to purity, from unjust violence to just non-violence, has not been completed. And when the Messiah comes, finally the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven. But on this day in Jesus' life, this is the year, right now, right here in Jerusalem. At least that is what the crowd thinks. Listen to their shouts:
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
Now Jerusalem is not a large city. And what the authors of the Bible take for granted and fail to mention is that while Jesus is parading in on a donkey through one of the back gates, on the other side of the city Pilate is parading in on a war horse accompanied by a squadron or two of battle-hardened Roman soldiers. You can bet that he too is being acclaimed by a crowd. There'd be hell to pay if he wasn't. Jesus on a donkey, Pilate on a war horse.
The Bible doesn't tell us about that parade or what they shouted, but you can bet it wasn't, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." That would be treason. And treason was punishable by? You guessed it, by torture followed by execution on a cross.
The Gospels are not just reporting facts. For example, John wants only one thing for his intended readers: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
John wants YOU to believe. An not just "believe," as in, "have an opinion about," But "believe into," become bonded with Jesus, become his disciple, become a loyal, trusting and trustworthy follower of Jesus. And not just that even. John wants YOU to have the life that is in Jesus. (John 15, "I am the vine, you are the branches," is a beautiful expression of what John wants for you.)
Jesus became one like us down to the darkest details of our life – suffering and death – to shed light to us so we may share the fullness of His life.
We need to be aware that the "trial" is not a modern day trial where evidence is entered and guilt or innocence is determined. A low class person like Jesus would not be brought before a higher-class person like the Chief Priest or Pilate unless it was presumed they were guilty. The purpose of the trial is to determine the punishment - and punishment is always about re-asserting the honour / power of the elites by degrading / humiliating / shaming the accused.
The mocking of Jesus, stripping him, spitting on him, whipping, and executing him by hanging him naked on a cross to die of suffocation - usually a 2 or 3 day ordeal - are all intended not simply to kill Jesus. This brutal public humiliation and degradation is also intended to kill the Jesus' movement by publically discrediting him in the eyes of the merely curious, and making an example of him to his committed followers - "This is what we'll do to you too!"
On the cross, after declaring that “it is finished,” Jesus bows his head and hands over his Spirit. Notice the sequence of the actions: first the head is bowed, then the Spirit is handed over. Normally when a person dies, they breathe their last, and then their head bows. This reversal suggests, not simply that Jesus is tired and near death, but rather that this is the action of a King giving his royal approval - this is a regal acknowledgement. To outsiders, a battered and broken Jesus could no longer hold his head up and died in humiliation and defeat. But to those who believe into him, a true Son of God has completed his great work, and with a royal nod (and maybe a mischievous wink?) has passed on his Spirit so that we too might have life - the life that was in Jesus.
Do we have a clear goal in life? Without a clear goal in life, we will always be distracted and spend our energy on secondary things. “keep our eye on the prize,” Martin Luther King said to his people. What is our prize? It is the divine life, the eternal life, the life with and in God. Jesus proclaimed to us that goal, that heavenly prize. To Nicodemus, He said: “This is how God so loved the world: He gave His son so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3: 16)
It is not easy to keep our eyes fixed on the eternal life, especially not in a world that keeps telling us that there are more immediate and urgent things on which to focus. How then do we keep our goal clear, how then do we fix our eyes on the prize? By the discipline of prayer; the discipline that helps us to bring back again and again to the center of our life. We will always remain distracted, constantly busy with urgent demands, but when there is a time and space set apart to return to our God who offers us eternal life, we can gradually come to realize that the many things we have to do, to say, or to think no longer distract us but are, instead all leading us to our goal.