Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66
Many preachers tend to drop out homily on this occasion due to the lengthy of the readings and the blessing and procession with palms. But it is not right. It is better to give a good homily direct to the point especially this week since it is the mother of all weeks of the year. If all it is celebrated well, with all its meanings being explained well, the other time of the year will be just a reminder of the salvation that we celebrate this week.
The Holy Week is the mother of all weeks, reaching its climax with triduum and its peak with Easter Vigil. Actually Charismas has no meaning if it cannot find its meaning in the Easter. The writing of the works and life of Jesus started after his resurrection. The liturgical calendar began with Resurrection, then stretching back and forth to form what is is today.
Before Jesus entered Jerusalem, he cried for this city. We remember last Sunday Jesus cried for Lazarus. The cry for Lazarus (a just man) was a Christian mourning, while the cry for Jerusalem today (unjust city) is a cry for the loss. This City is City of peace (Jerusalem) but what is going to happen to a king of peace is the opposite. The same way it is sad to see how many Christians get baptized on Easter but never live their baptismal promises.
Jesus used a donkey instead of a horse. It was the culture of the day that when a king is walking in the city would use a donkey to mean there is peace and use a horse in time of war. Jesus is the king of peace. People welcomed him by singing with joy and laying palm leaves and clothing as carpet. This entry is not yet the fulfillment of the triumphant entry but pointing towards his triumphant over death. That is why we have a mixed feeling of joy and sadness. Joyful singing and sad red vestments. We will lift him up today with praises, but tomorrow, Good Friday, we nail him.
Jesus was primarily a political martyr but God authorized it so that to reap good fruits from it. That is not to say, as some people seem to imply, that God wanted to kill Jesus and engineered everything to happen that way. There are perfectly understandable reasons why Jesus’ behaviour led to his suffering and death. At the same time, this behaviour was the result of Jesus’ unconditional love for every person he met — including his enemies. And Jesus’ love for everyone was a mirror of the same love of the Father. It was a love so intense that Jesus was ready to sacrifice his own life for it. “Greater love [agape, agaph] than this no one has than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And, we might add, for those who have made us their enemies as well.
In doing so, Jesus identified with his Father’s will, namely, that all come to be aware of God’s unconditional love for them. It is St Paul who says that it is not altogether unusual for a person to die for good people. It is altogether unusual for one to give up their life for evildoers. And, basically, that is what all of us are in one way or another.
Reflecting with the eyes of faith, what we see in today’s readings is God using perfectly human situations in order to convey, in dramatic fashion, his relationship to us. And it is only with genuine faith that we are able to see the work of God in the tragic death of Jesus. As Paul says, for many of the Jews it was a stumbling block and for many non-believers sheer nonsense.
Today’s readings also tell us that Jesus suffered. And he really did suffer. There are those who tend to minimise the sufferings of Jesus because “after all, he was the Son of God, he had a ‘Divine Nature’.” This is to deny one of the most central teachings of the New Testament, the dogma that state that “Jesus was fully human and fully God.” He was 100% human except for sin. Jesus suffered obviously in his body and he underwent pain that we associate with the more barbaric forms of torture in our own day. But he must also have suffered psychologically and this pain may have been even more intense. He cried before entering Jerusalem and also thought of his mission as a total failure. His disciples had all, for the sake of their own skins, taken to their heels. Would anyone remember anything he taught or did? There was, at this special time of need, a terrible loneliness. His disciples fell asleep in the garden when he especially needed their support. They ran off as soon as people came to arrest Jesus. Even the Father seems to be silent, the Father who could send legions of angels to rescue him – but apparently did nothing. There is the final poignant cry from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Yet through it all Jesus’ dignity, power and authority keep shining through, making his captors seem to be the ones on the defensive. After the prayer in the garden, Jesus stands up to face those arresting him full of an inner strength and authority. He stands in silent dignity before his judges, refusing to be intimidated. In the midst of his own pain and indignities, he can continue to think of the needs of others and can, after his own teaching, pray for and forgive his enemies.
The best thing to know is that Jesus save us. At the moment of his death, Matthew in today’s Gospel reading says that Jesus “released the spirit”. It is a way of saying that he breathed his last breath and died. But it also has the other meaning that the life, sufferings and death of Jesus, when properly understood, released a power into the world, the power of the Spirit of God, a Spirit with which Jesus himself was filled. Jesus’ followers will soon become filled with that Spirit also.
Jesus’ disciples, energised by the power of their Lord and Master, will go through similar experiences to his. They, like Jesus in the garden, will be filled with fear but, later on, they will be filled with a fearless courage and joy. No matter who threatens them, no matter that they are thrown into jail or that members of their communities are murdered and executed, they will continue to preach fearlessly the Gospel of Truth and Love. The death of Jesus, which we commemorate today, was not in the end a sign of failure. It was Jesus’ moment of triumph and victory. The same can be said of the long line of martyrs and witnesses over 2,000 years.
So, as we participate in the liturgy of Holy Week, let us not concentrate simply on the sufferings of Jesus as if there was something good about suffering. Those sufferings only have meaning because they lead to resurrection, new life and new joy. The pain and sufferings of our lives are not the punishments of God, still less are they to be sought out. Suffering, pain, sickness are not in themselves desirable. They become, however, sources of good when they help us to become more mature, more loving, more caring, more sympathetic people — in other words when they lead us to be more like Jesus himself, when they lead to our own liberation and the liberation of others.
St Theresa of Lisieux, Pray for us