The liturgy of this Palm Sunday invites us to contemplate God who, out of love, comes down to meet us. He shares our humanity, making Himself Servant of everyone in his Son Jesus. Jesus is the Incarnated God and, due to the conflict that his ministry provoked among the powerful and the mighty of the people, he will endure persecution, prison, torture and death. The cross is very close to him now, once he arrived to the holy city of Jerusalem. Entering the city, it will be revealed to us the last step of this path of new life that, in Jesus, God proposes us: to donate life because of love.
Jesus enters Jerusalem, the holy city, the city he loves so much up to the point of crying over it, foreseeing its destruction. (Mathew 23; 37: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”) He is acclaimed by the people who calls him Son of David, the blessed one who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel. Nevertheless, what perhaps not everybody notices is the fact that this king is different from the other kings of this world. He is humble, he doesn´t present himself with honors, luxury and glory. But humbly he comes seated upon an ass. This king doesn´t threaten anyone with his power. As it was predicted by the prophet Zechariah, the people of God has no more reason to fear. Because the king of glory comes in humility, as a servant, to save them. “Fear no more, O daughter Zion; see, your king comes, seated upon an ass's colt.” (Zechariah 9,9)
The people who looks Jesus passing by the streets of Jerusalem revere him, calling him the blessed one who comes in the name of the Lord and put palms and leaves to honor his passage. In the letter to the Philippians Paul depicts the portrait of this king, of this blessed one, of this one sent in the name of the Lord. In the 2nd chapter of the letter –which is in fact a liturgical hymn - Jesus Christ is at the center of every word and feeling Paul evokes to his beloved community. He writes to the Philippians who are Christians and have, therefore, Christ as the prototype of human being and of true life. And the description Paul makes of Jesus in the second reading of this Palm Sunday is exactly the one of the humble and obedient servant.
The hymn begins referring in subtleness to the contrast between Adam who didn´t obey to God, and Christ, the obedient, the New Human Being. Adam´s superb was redeemed by Christ´s “kenosis”, humbly stripping himself of every privilege. Being God, he didn´t remain attached to his divine condition, but accepted to incarnate, assuming human flesh, in order to serve, to give life, to reveal totally the Father´s love. He obeyed completely till death on the cross. And because of that he could teach us the supreme lesson of love, mercy and service.
That is the reason why we can call him King. This descent to the world and to human flesh was not a loss, but the condition by which he received from God resurrection and glory. Because of his obedience, God made him Kyrios, Lord and the whole world recognizes and praises him as the One who reigns upon the entire earth and presides history. That is the path of Jesus. So, it must be our path too. Only in humility and service to others, renouncing to pride and privileges, we can follow this One we call King and Lord.
The Gospel – already announced at the beginning of liturgy - will go behind, before the glorious entrance in Jerusalem, to Bethany where Jesus, feeling death approaching, is together with disciples and friends. And a woman was there. Who is that woman? The tradition has sometimes interpreted and identified her with Mary of Bethany, Martha´s and Lazaro´s sister, who sat at Jesus‘feet, listening to his word. But the gospel only mentions “a woman”, who came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly and precious, and poured it on Jesus‘head.
While through Jerusalem rumors of death and hate were moving on, that woman made a gesture of pure love, anointing Jesus‘head.
Some of those who were there protested. Why this waste of such an expensive oil which could have been sold and given to the poor? Jesus supports the woman and her gesture. He knew the hypocrisy hidden behind those protests. He had always spoke in favor of the poor. But now, he puts in value and tenderly accepts and receives that woman´s gesture and offer. She did a good thing for him, anointing his body for the burial that would come with the violent death he would endure. And declares that “wherever the gospel would be proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told, in memory of her. “
Jesus, the Son of man, never had a place to lay his head." (Luke 9, 58) This woman´s gesture anointed him as Servant and Messiah, and he accepted it, as prophetical anticipation of his Passover. The perfume and the essence of love poured out anointed him, and through him, the whole universe who will be able to smell it: full life who will come from the death freely accepted for the sake of the others. And this perfume will be remembered in memory of her who makes memory of Him.
Anointed by the woman, Jesus can begin his pilgrimage through Jerusalem, to the supper with his beloved friends and then to prison, to agony, to the painful prayer where God is pure silence in the Gethsemane, to judgement, torture and death. We, his disciples are called to follow him assimilating his attitude and his way of living.
The first reading would have prepared us to live this mystery, in the following of Jesus. It presents us to an anonymous prophet, called by God to testify among nations the Word of life. In spite of suffering and persecution, the prophet trusted in God and was faithful to His projects.
The primitive Christians saw in the face of this servant Jesus Himself, as described by the letter to Philippians: humble, obedient. This prophet received from God a mission: to speak, to use his disciple´s tongue, gift of God. It is a well-trained tongue, good to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. But in order to speak, the prophet, the disciple must first of all listen. Every morning the Lord opens his ear so he can hear. And he listens, humbly, to everything the Lord wants to tell him, everything the Lord wants him to speak to others, to the people.
And because he has not rebelled to his mission, didn´t run away from the danger and the pain, turning and offering his back to those who beat him and not shielding his face from buffets and spitting, the word he pronounces and announces will be of great help to the poor, the oppressed and everyone who suffer and is sad and in despair.
Those readings of Palm Sunday call us to contemplate Jesus who enters in Jerusalem, humbly upon an ass and is acclaimed by the crowd as king. We are invited to continue to contemplate him who is anointed in anticipation of his death and burial, he who will suffer at the same city which acclaimed him as King and Lord. This is our call in this Palm Sunday.
The readings are calling us to adopt the same attitude as Jesus: humility, service, readiness to listen to the word of God. Once we listen we are called to speak, to announce what we heard and learned. And that announcement is that God didn´t forget His people, but brought them salvation and consolation of all sufferings and dangers.
The readings are also calling us to make gestures as the one made by the woman who poured all the precious perfume she had in the alabaster jar to anoint Jesus and confess him as Messiah and King. We are called to express love in the world to others, mostly to those who suffer as Jesus was suffering at that moment. The woman´s gesture of love and praise is valuable to be announced all over the world. It is Gospel, good news.
The readings finally call us to learn with Jesus the path for true life. And true life is life which is put at service of liberation of the poor and oppressed. This way of living is not loss or unhappiness or anguish. Even if suffering is included, those who live and serve humbly like Jesus, we will not be defeated.
God the Father who rescued His Son from death and glorified Him will do the same for each word, each gesture of true and humble service we will give graciously to our brothers and sisters.
MARCH 29, 2018
Do you realize what I have done for you? I can imagine that an uncomfortable silence hung in the air at the utterance of these words as Jesus rejoined the disciples after ceremoniously washing each of their feet. I can see them looking at each other, searching each other’s faces for one among them who might know the answer, then looking sheepishly but curiously back at their beloved teacher.
There is no mistaking that the question carries considerable weight, and I, like the disciples know that the answer is not the obvious one. Jesus hadn’t simply washed their feet, he turned their world, our world upside down in the process, and then very explicitly and directly instructs all of us to adhere to the model he just provided.
And what exactly did Jesus model for us? As he said, the disciples revered him, called him teacher and master, and rightly so. He was held in high esteem, was assigned an elevated status by his disciples, as evidenced by Peter’s strong protestations at the thought of Jesus performing a service normally reserved for the lowest members of society, a duty of servants and slaves. Remember that roadways were shared by goats and sheep, donkeys and horses, and the wheels of carts spread what animals always leave behind where the people also had to tread, so feet in those days weren’t just dusty, they would have been filthy.
So filthy in fact that Jesus had to remove his outer garments to keep them from getting dirty in the process, but then stooped down in front of each disciple in turn to perform what must have been a distinctly unpleasant service.
Unlike someone whose job this was, who had no choice in the matter Jesus chose to do this, demonstrating that truly he did “love his own in the world and loved them to the end.”
But, why wash their feet? I think because it was a deeply intimate and personal thing to do; by making such intentional physical contact with each person, Jesus also touched their hearts and minds and souls. It was a foreshadowing of an even greater sacrifice to be made on behalf of the whole world through his crucifixion, but this act was done on an individual basis. It was as if Jesus was saying to each one of the disciples, to each one of us, “I love YOU, in particular.”
He wanted to lift them up; to let them feel the depth of his love; the magnitude of their value in his eyes; to recognize the sacredness of being a beloved child of God. No wonder they were speechless when he asked if they understood what he had just done. It is an awesome thing to even begin to fathom this love beyond all understanding.
And how do we even begin to respond to that kind of love?
Jesus wastes no time in making that very clear by telling the disciples, “I have given you a model to follow. What I have done for you, you should do for each other.” By including Judas, who would betray him in this ritual, Jesus teaches us
that we are to honor and respect the human dignity of each person, unconditionally and without exclusion. This is to be what guides us as we interact in every aspect of our lives, from within our own families, out and into society and as members of a global community.
St. Pope John XXIII understood this directive to be the guiding principle and only way to establish world peace. In his 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, Pope John uses the divine order of things that Jesus demonstrated, in which the value and dignity of human life is at the core of everything. He asserted that protecting and promoting universal human rights is the way in which God intended the world to operate and the only path to peace for us today. He developed this idea in a series of concentric circles with human rights at the core, followed by public authorities, international relations, and the world community.
Had we adopted the model of Jesus and the implications for modern society laid out by John XXIII, we would not find ourselves in such a dismal state today. We are in the painful throws of all kinds of crisis: environmental, economic, racial, political, and global crisis.
It can be overwhelming! What are we to do?
We can start by remembering the words that Jesus spoke, “What I have done for you, you should also do.” We should take no action, enact no policy, enforce no law that violates the human rights of any of God’s children. If we imitated the model we were given, we would not separate immigrant families with inhumane detention centers and deportations, we wouldn’t throw people away into human warehouses we call prisons, we wouldn’t tolerate a single more mass shooting, or any shooting at all, we wouldn’t use drones to bomb distant villages, or turn away starving and terrified refugees pleading for help.
We would invest as much into peace building and peace keeping efforts as we do to our industrial military complex and never even hint at unleashing nuclear weapons on another nation again. We would see to it that every member of our communities has shelter, enough to eat, access to education and meaningful work at a living wage.
As we enter into the Triduum, let us not sit in an unresponsive silence as Jesus poses his question to us, “Do you realize what I have done for you?”
Let us respond in word and action to God’s immense and unconditional love of us by treating each other as we have been taught. Let us to do for each other what has been done for us.
MARCH 30, 2018
On this second day of the Triduum, the day that is called Good Friday, we once again hear John’s version of the Passion. We hear that Jesus is resolute, recognizing that the hour has come for which he was purposed, to suffer and die, so that the world would be saved through him. Jesus was not afraid to speak truth to power. It was that truth that put him in opposition with the political and religious leaders of his time and it was that truth that led him to his death, death on a cross.
So what is good about Good Friday?
Good Friday is a somber day in church, reflecting on the death of Jesus and for the sins of the world that his death represents. We hear from the Prophet Isaiah a foretelling of Jesus as the suffering servant. Death by crucifixion was gruesome, humiliating, and public. Usually death by crucifixion was reserved for those who committed atrocious crimes, like the two thieves that were hanging on crosses with him. We know that Jesus was innocent of any such crime. One of the thieves also knew and recognize Jesus for who he was and said, “Jesus remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus was committed to justice, always siding with the underdog, those that were being oppressed by the empire’s systems, by the religious elites and by others. Jesus was guilty of going against the mandates of the empire. But Jesus stood his ground and because of his resistance to the injustices that were being perpetuated at the time, he was sentenced to death.
What is good about Good Friday?
On Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018, a former student at a Florida High School went on a shooting rampage, killing 17 people. Since then, Parkland is seen as the turning point in the gun control debate. While that is a very good thing, let us not forgot that black and brown youth deal with gun violence each and every day. The sounds of gun shots are more familiar than children’s laughter when playing. Black and brown youth are not achieving their full potential. The demand for stricter gun laws started many years ago. Our children are continually being sacrificed because of America’s fascination with guns and the greed of the congress who are allowing the NRA to line their pockets.
The time for thoughts and prayers every time there is a massive gun slaughter is gone. Let us not be like Peter watching and waiting outside the gate to see the outcome of what will happen to Jesus. The church has been silent on the issue of violence (and other issues) and it is time to be as radical as Jesus and stand up to the injustices that are plaguing our communities. The young people need our actions in joining them and demanding common sense gun laws: title guns like cars, raise the age for purchasing guns and enforce stricter background check policies. Arming teachers is not the answer.
What’s good about Good Friday?
If we, the church, the disciples of Jesus Christ, don’t take a stand who will?
When we look at the cross we can draw on the strength that Jesus displayed in his darkest hours. That is the strength that is needed to take a stand against gun violence, against racism, sexism and all other “isms” no matter the consequences and no matter the voices that are in opposition. Jesus died for our sins, once for all.
What’s good about Good Friday?
In John 10, Jesus said “I lay down my life for the sheep...no one takes it from me.
Good Friday reminds us that Jesus’ life exemplified just actions and love for everyone, especially the least of them.
What’s good about Good Friday?
Good Friday causes us to activate our faith. We know that Good Friday was not the end of the story. We have read the last chapter.
So what’s good about Good Friday?
Without Good Friday there would be no Resurrection Sunday.
Happy Easter! This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad! St. Paul tells us that the Resurrection of Jesus is the very heart of our Christian faith. In the Risen Jesus we are assured of our own bodily resurrection and eternal life. In fact, Paul claims that if Jesus is not risen our faith is in vain and we are of all people the most to be pitied for we have wagered our one and only life on a pipe dream, an impossibility, or, at least, on a failed first century experiment that ended in the grave. So, the Church universal spent last night in vigil until we greeted the dawn of the New Creation with the “Exultet,” the Church’s triumphal hymn to the Paschal Candle, symbolizing the Risen Christ, entering the darkened Church in solemn procession to be enthroned in our midst, finally dispelling by its peaceful light the gloom of death that had settled over creation with the sin of our first parents.
But following all this drama, this morning we read the most low-key, un-triumphal, seemingly ambiguous, if not pointless passage of all the Easter narratives. Mary Magdalene, at the first moment after the Sabbath when she could legally be out and active, had run to the tomb where the executed Jesus had been buried on Friday and discovered the tomb open (and, she presumed, empty). She ran to Simon Peter and the unnamed -- and gender ambiguous -- “Disciple whom Jesus loved”, to report her deduction: “They have taken away the Lord and we do not know where they have put him.”
The two disciples run to the tomb. The first to arrive, the Beloved Disciple, looks into the open tomb and discovers it is not empty as Mary had surmised. The linen burial wrappings of Jesus are there, empty of his body! Then Simon Peter arrives, goes into the tomb, and sees the empty burial wrappings -- and something else, not visible to the Beloved Disciple from outside, namely, the veil that had been placed over the face of the dead Jesus. The death veil is carefully and definitively wrapped up, and placed apart from the burial clothes, in a special place of its own. Peter apparently comes to no insight from what he saw. But when the Beloved Disciple, who has not yet entered the tomb, goes in and sees what could not be seen from outside, namely, the face veil now definitively retired from service, the evangelist says that the Beloved Disciple “saw and believed.” This is a technical theological phrase in John’s Gospel. To “see and believe” is to have grasped divine revelation in and through some sensible reality, some “sign,” and to have responded with living and saving faith. Then, surprisingly, we are told that the disciples, these two like Mary Magdalene, did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. And they, like Mary Magdalene, leave the tomb.
What are we to make of this seemingly pointless story? What has it to do with the Church’s triumphant proclamation of the Resurrection? Actually, a great deal -- indeed, in one sense, everything! In this story we, today, must make the transition from the life of the pre-Easter Jesus shared by his first-century disciples (and which we read about) to the life of the actually Risen Jesus -- in which we now share. If we fail to make that transition our faith becomes merely a remembrance of things past rather than a life shared with the living Jesus in the present.
John’s Easter narrative is not, first and foremost, about what happened in Palestine in the first century. It is about us, our personal and corporate experience of Jesus, risen and living within and among us today, grounding our hope for our own ultimate bodily transformation in eternal life. And not only a hope for our own personal survival of death through some form of spiritual or cosmic immortality. It is about how we participate, already in anticipation and eventually in fullness of bodily fact, in the bodily resurrection to new, eternal, and glorified life of the martyred Jesus. And how we become, in him, here and now, participants in the bringing about of the New Creation, the transformation of this world, our human history, the human race, and all creation into the reality God intended in the First Creation when God declared all that God had made to be “very good.”
But to understand this message we need to read this narrative in depth, with the eyes of faith, which emphatically does not meancredulously or naively or unscientifically. It means to read, to hear, to see not just with our physical senses, or even with our inquiring and educated minds, but with our whole being -- not as we sensibly perceive a rock in a garden, or even as we intellectually understanda scientific theory, but as we comprehensively receive a friend or a spouse in personal revelatory encounter.
In this episode the Greek language of the text makes this distinction among kinds of seeing clear in a way that does not carry over very well in English translation. Greek has three different words for “see” corresponding to three types of “vision” of an object seen which, in turn, correspond to three “experiences of knowing”. In this passage one of these three words for “see” is used for Mary Magdalene’s physical vision of the open tomb and the Beloved Disciple’s vision of the empty burial linens from outside the tomb. The second word for see is used for Simon Peter’s inquiring vision of the burial linens and face veil from inside the tomb. The third verb is used for the Beloved Disciple’s revelatory vision, upon entering the tomb, of the definitively set aside face veil which leads to “seeing and believing,” that is, the response of salvific Easter faith in the revelation of the Glorification of Jesus. We make this same distinction in meaning among sensible, intellectual, and wholistic revelatory seeing in English, but we often use the same word, “see”, for these very diverse experiences. So our English translation can obscure the distinction among the three types of perceiving in this episode – a distinction which the Evangelist is careful to emphasize for us the readers.
So, what did the Beloved Disciple, unlike Mary Magdalene and Simon Peter, “see,” which brought this disciple to Easter faith.? The Beloved Disciple, the Gospel’s prototypical believer, saw the veil, which had been placed over the face of Jesus, definitive testimony among the Jews to the finality of death, to the final separation of the dead from the living -- and which the reader of John’s Gospel remembers was still over the face of the resuscitated Lazarus when Jesus had called Lazarus back to earthly life, because, of course, Lazarus would die again. The Beloved Disciple sees the face veil of Jesus definitively rolled up, set aside, no longer needed because its wearer, Jesus, is not dead, nor resuscitated, nor will he ever die again. Unlike Moses who had to place a veil over his face to shield the Israelites in the desert from the glory of his face after he had conversed with God on Sinai, Jesus is truly and fully and definitively bodily alive in the glory of God. The veil of his earthly flesh is no longer necessary and his death veil has lost its meaning. And in the next scene, the encounter of the Glorified Jesus with Mary Magdalene, the full meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection as his return to his own, the completion of his personal Glorification which was his going to God, will be revealed.
But for now, the Beloved Disciple (who is in John’s Gospel the representative of all Jesus’ true disciples, male and female, down through the ages) sees what neither Mary Magdalene nor Simon Peter could see: that Jesus has not been stolen as a dead body, has not been physically resuscitated like Lazarus who would have to die again, but has been truly glorified in God’s presence with the undying life that the Son, the Word of God become flesh in Jesus, had -- and still has -- with God from all eternity. In other words, on the basis of what the disciple saw, the face veil representing Jesus’ pre-Crucifixion historical mortality, definitely set aside, the Beloved Disciple believed what was being revealed: namely, that Jesus is not dead; his project neither failed nor terminated. Jesus is totally alive in God in the full integrity of his glorified bodily humanity.
How believers, down through the ages, will experience Jesus living and acting in their midst is still to be explored and explicitated in the rest of the Resurrection Narratives and down through the centuries of Christian experience. But that Jesus is alive is now revealed. As the story unfolds through history his disciples will learn that the Bread they taste in Eucharist, the Gospel they hear in Scripture, the friend, or spouse or suffering neighbor they see and touch in community and ministry -- indeed, all the sacramental experience of their life of faith -- is real contact with the living Jesus who is bodily risen in our midst. This sacramental revelation of Jesus alive in our own experience is just as real, indeed more real because no longer limited by death, as was the vision of Jesus’ pre-Easter disciples who walked the roads of Galilee with him or even his post-Easter disciples who would eat with him at Emmaus, touch his glorified wounds, receive his missioning breath, hear his commission to be and promote community as his living Body in the world.
On this Easter morning, as we, the living body in this world of the Risen Jesus, sing the “Alleluia” we will someday sing in the presence of the Glorified Lord, let us lovingly renew our faith and hope that what we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, taste as our food, touch with our hands of the Word of Life is indeed the One who is already risen in our midst.
On this day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad! Happy Easter!