FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion (B)
Isaiah 50:4-7 | Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24. | Philippians 2:6-11 | Mark 14:1—15:47
Today we enter into the most solemn week in our liturgical year. The readings today present us with the opportunity to understand Jesus' journey to Resurrection through the Cross. We shall pray for the gifts of patient endurance, humility and discernment.
The Ayangan tribe in Lagawe, Ifugao was suffering from the effects of a severe drought. Food was scarce and the members of the tribe were beginning to steal from each other in order to survive. Hanglulo, the chief, knew that that would be the death of the tribe so he issued a law that the next person caught stealing would be taken to the center of the village, tied to a pole and publicly whipped. The next day, sure enough a thief was caught. Everyone turned up to see who it was and to witness the punishment. To everyone’s shock, the thief turned out to be Tuwali, th Chief ’s own mother. What was Hanglulo going to do? He was a good chief, and could not justly ignore the law he had made the day before. He had to be just. But good grief, this was his mother. Tuwali was old, and frail, the beating could very well kill her. And he loved her. How could he cause her to suffer? Hanglulo orders that her wrists be tied to the pole so the beating can begin. And he calls the punisher to step forward, whip in hand. But before Hanglulo gives the order to start, he steps in between his mother and the punisher. He stretches his broad shoulders across her frail back and with her body completely protected underneath his own, orders that the punishment be carried out. As the cords of the whip fall, they fall on him, and he absorbs the full brunt of Tuwali's penalty. In that act he was both just, in carrying out the penalty, and loving, by suffering it himself.
Our First Reading is taken from the third of the four servant songs by Deutero-Isaiah. Israel in Babylonian exile is rejecting God's message. Despite rejection by the people, the servant does not refuse his divine vocation to deliver the truth. He expresses unshakable confidence that God will eventually prove him right and vindicate him. There is something in our fleshly human nature that just loves to get even. When we have been bullied, or injured, or mistreated, or attacked, our emotions well up inside of us and all we can think of is revenge or retaliation. It's clear in the Scriptures that the servant makes no resistance to his attackers. He does not meet violence with violence. He does not resist when he is beaten, when his beard is plucked, when he is struck and spat upon. A servant does not fight fire with fire. Patient endurance is not weakness but a sign of great inner strength. Insults and violence cannot change the inner reality of your person and the message of truth that you bear. Patient endurance of beatings and insults prepare ordinary people like you and me for an extraordinary destiny. Let us take consolation in the words of the Dominican virgin and penitent Rosa of Lima, "Apart from the Cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to Heaven."
Ludovico Ang, billionaire tycoon, was visiting a church and was asked to give his testimony. He said, “I have a fine family, twenty large mansions, a successful business empire of ten companies and a good reputation. I have plenty of money so I can support some ministries and outreach program very generously. Various universities and organizations want me on their board of directors. I have good health and almost unlimited opportunities. What more could I ask from God?” As he paused for effect, a voice shouted from the back of the auditorium, “How about asking Him for a good dose of humility?”
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul taught that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and King of Heaven, had the right to honor, praise, and worship. Yet, to be our Savior, he laid all of his privileges aside to become a lowly servant. He accepted all it means to become human, including death. It had to be so. The Second Adam had to undo the damage caused by the first. Our first parents were bitten by the serpent and injected with the deadly poison of pride and the antidote could only be humility. Jesus' humble obedience would crush the head of the deadly serpent. The Corona Virus pandemic had been a humiliation for all of us who are living in an era of technological advancement and scientific breakthroughs. Manila doesn’t feel like the bustling city we always knew. The streets are quiet. The lines that usually snake out of Starbucks and Jollibee are absent, as are the traffic jams in EDSA. Every residence smells like a hospital and comes equipped with an antiseptic hand wash bottle. Our pantries are unusually stocked up with food, water and emergency items. Today, we watch how the King comes riding into Jerusalem. The lesson for us on this Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion is one of humility. We will never recover from this pandemic unless we become humble and lowly. We must recognize that we are neither sufficient nor clever enough to save ourselves, that we needed a Savior against this tiny microbe that has rendered us helpless. The way to salvation is not one of self-assertion, of relying on our own greatness, but instead, through acknowledging our absolute dependence upon God. Let us humbly beg Jesus, "Hosanna! Come save your people, Lord!"
The story is told of a new bank president who met with his predecessor and said, "I would like to know what have been the keys to your success." The older gentleman looked at him and replied, "Young man, I can sum it up in two words: Good decisions." To that the young man responded, "I thank you immensely for that advice, sir, but how does one come to know which are the good decisions?" "One word, young man," replied the sage. "Experience." "That's all well and good," said the younger, "but how does one get experience?" "Two words," said the elder. "Bad decisions."
For two thousand years, Judas has therefore been Christianity’s primary image of human evil. He was one of the inner circle who knew the Lord most intimately and who listened most frequently to His teaching. He was the treasurer in the apostolic band and he was evidently fully respected and completely trusted. Like the rest of the disciples, Judas left everything to follow our Lord. However, Satan made a relentless assault on Judas’s soul (Luke 22:3–4; John 13:2, 27), as he would do on anyone who chooses to follow Christ. One might say, “Poor Judas, he didn’t have a chance. Satan entered into him. What could he do about that?” But this notion overlooks the fact that Judas opened the door to Satan. His betrayal of Jesus didn't happen overnight. Judas, by his actions, was already choosing, as he was choosing to steal from the collective money bag. His betrayal of our Lord started with small but consistent infidelities. Judas' greed has escalated incrementally from small acts of dishonesty until he ultimately sold his Master for thirty pieces of silver. Cheating that has gone unchecked will become worse or more intense. Judas put himself in this position where God allowed Satan use him. He had a choice in the matter. He made a series of bad decisions and the devil took the opportunity and entered into his heart. He could have resisted this. Instead, he gave in and thus was responsible for his own actions.
We also hear in the Passion of our Lord according to Saint Mark that the crowd made a really bad decision to release Barabbas. Bar + Abbas actually means "son (child) of the Father". We are whom Barabbas depicted. Just as Barabbas was a guilty rebel, murderer, and thief, so are we. We are the prisoner being freed. Jesus took our death, and we were given the freedom Jesus deserved. Jesus bore the guilt and shame and curse and disgrace and death that we deserved. We did not deserve that freedom. But Jesus took our place to die. We are children of the Father. We are Barabbas. We suffer the consequences of the bad decisions we make. Now it’s up to all of us to pay attention to what our leaders say and do during this crisis. Learn more about who they are and what they stand for, and choose wisely in 2022. Let us choose Jesus over Barabbas, next time around.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum