Palm Sunday Homily 2019

Palm Sunday
April 14, 2019

2 Sam 7:4-16; Luke 2:41-51

Isaiah's song of the servant of God paints such a prophetic portrait of Jesus that it is easy to understand why the early Church used it: It explains their suffering saviour. If we imagine Jesus reciting it, the first thing we hear is his awareness that everything he has, comes from God for the purpose of giving new life to the poor or weary.

Next, he explains that his entire life has been one of listening in order to understand and carry out God's will. Then, just as he had with the disciples, he speaks of freely accepting his suffering. Finally, he reveals the key to his integrity and why he can accomplish what he does: "The Lord God is my help”.

Our reading from Philippians offers the early Church's poetic reflection on Christ as the perfect servant of God. Beginning with the assurance that he was indeed divine, it explains that status held no sway over him. Long before he began to teach others about humility, he freely dispossessed himself of privilege, assuming the condition of the needy and accepting the human vocation to listen to and obey God - no matter the consequences.

The two readings offer us more than enough material on which to meditate. This is Jesus, the obedient Son of God, the one in whom God was well pleased. This is the one who lived in utter transparency, whose life and death gave witness to his teaching about serving the lowly and disdaining prestige. This is the Christ whom God exalted so that everyone could proclaim him as Lord and see in him the glory of God. St Luke's Passion invites us to enter the scene.

Jesus of Nazareth is executed in Jerusalem when the city is filled with pilgrims who are there to celebrate the Jewish festival of Passover. Every Passover from now on will mark the anniversary of the death of Jesus and will be celebrated through the lens of their experience of his life and death. They share their memories of the one they loved so deeply and reflect on the meaning of his life and death, in the light of their wisdom traditions. Every element of their Passover story, the ancient story of God’s deliverance of God’s people from slavery, will echo with resonances of the life and death of Jesus who is now present to them in a new way. It is not surprising, then, that these final events of Jesus’ life were probably the first part of the Jesus’ story to be committed to writing. Neither is it surprising that each of the canonical gospels includes an account of Jesus’ suffering and death and that each approaches the events from its own particular perspective.

There are several unique features in St Luke’s account. The most remarkable to my mind is Jesus’ readiness to forgive his executioners even while they continue to mock him. Another is his capacity to reach out to others: to ‘turn towards’ the women of Jerusalem, to receive their compassionate mourning, and to express his own concern for them. In line with his overall intention to demonstrate that Christianity is no threat to the Roman Empire, St Luke repeatedly points to the innocence of Jesus. The Lucan Jesus is the rejected prophet who trusts utterly in God and into whose hands he entrusts his spirit. He dies with the same sort of dignity that has characterised his life.

It is easy to let our own hurt find expression in criticism or mistreatment of others whom we fail to understand. It is also easy to retaliate in the face of unjust accusation and insult. It takes more courage than most of us can muster to name unjust treatment for what it is, to truly forgive, to retain our peace of mind in such circumstances, and to trust in the power of God to break through the ignorance that engenders violence.

The passion today starts with the last Supper and the meal of friendship and the way to remember Jesus forever. Judas has a big place in this. It ends with the good thief. There is sin, betrayal, injustice, and in the middle of it all, is love. Total and compassionate love.

Some may suggest that the passion is often presented too graphically. All on Jesus’ mind when he was suffering was us, and love. There is a mixture of people who want his death – but nobody seems to think he is guilty. Jesus was the innocent one – everyone in St Luke’s gospel said that — the thief, the centurion, Pilate and Herod. Nevertheless, they were caught in trying to save their own skin and their institutions. People still suffer today, because people are looking after themselves rather than the suffering of others.

The Passion invites us to look at ourselves:  our inability to forgive, to understand, to see the bigger picture that love sees. We are tough on the sinner and even on the good people who do wrong. We do not give second chances like God does. Is our Church now failing in compassion, forgiveness and in following the God of the second chance, like for the thief? We are invited here to consider the love behind every moment of the passion – the love of God. We are invited to soften our judgements and give the second chance as Jesus did.

Nobody is ever written off by Jesus. Love for all. The first word of Pope Francis’ motto is mercy. May we live by this.

The gospel today gives a meaning, a direction and hope to everything we suffer, ponder and struggle within our lives.