Fr. Jerome Machar, OCSO
March 20, 2016
Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2: 6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56
Today we enter upon the most solemn and holy week of the year. Holding our palms and singing the hymn of the children, I suggest we ponder the question John’s disciples had once asked Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Lk. 7:19). Then I would offer a word of caution. Just because we have doubts, does not mean we do not believe. Because of our frail human condition, faith is often mixed with doubt. We have only to recall the heartfelt plea of the father of the possessed boy: “I do believe! Strengthen my weak faith” (Mk. 9:24). Holding the palms, we need grace to continue our walk with the Lord through all life’s disappointments. As we gaze upon Face of God’s steadfast love, are we willing to admit our duplicity of heart? Remember, as we look at Him with doubt, guilt and shame, He looks at us with love (CF. Mk. 10:21).
Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God is full of compassion and love. He can and does deal with our uncertainty and ambivalence. As He did with John’s disciples, He does with us. He looks at us and asks: “What did you come to the church to see?” (CF. Lk. 7:24) Perhaps, you came hoping to recapture lost memories and feelings from your youth. I can remember braiding and weaving palm fronds into elaborate designs and then decorating the crucifix that hung in our kitchen. What happened in the church had an impact on what we did at home. Faith and life were integrated. With aging, however, life became bifurcated and compartmentalized.
So, “what did you come to the church to see?” (CF. Lk. 7:24) Perhaps you came to participate in a pilgrimage of faith. Sometimes pageantry can bolster our faith. God has never ceased to call to Himself a people so that from the rising of the sun to it settings a sacrifice of praise can be offered to the glory of His name. Like those pilgrims on that first Palm Sunday, we are surprised to discover the Holy One of Israel in our midst. In commemorating the Lord’s solemn entry into Jerusalem, we become partakers of the cross and glorious resurrection. May we who today follow Christ into Jerusalem by means of sacramental signs follow Him into the eternal Jerusalem.
Knowing that the palms we hold can serve as reminders and as challenges, I will ask the question a third time: What did you come to the church to see? Perhaps you came to peer into the eyes of mercy. There is something shocking and disconcerting about the quick shift from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify Him!” How quickly warm devotion can turn to total rejection. The pageantry of today brings us face-to-face with our own duplicity and God’s steadfast love. Even when we are unfaithful, God remains faithful. The passion story is not a tragedy. It is the story of redemptive love. Jesus accepted His Father’s will for the salvation of the world. He humbled himself, obediently accepting His life and death for love of us. How blessed are we that Jesus prays for us, as He did for Peter, that no matter how fickle and cowardly we might be when faced by trials, our faith will sustain us.
It is important to maintain a heathy balance between pondering what we have done to Christ and remembering what He has done for us. The Beloved Son of God was humble and obedient. He fulfilled the Father’s will for the salvation of the world by becoming human and freely embracing His passion. Because He remained faithful, the cross of Christ has become the path by which we can flee from sin and receive a steadfast spirit. It was because of our sins that Jesus was crucified, and “through His wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5). At the heart of today’s liturgy are words taken from the Letter to the Philippians, “He humbled himself” (Phil. 2:8). These words demonstrate God’s way of dealing with sinful humanity. God humbles Himself to walk with us. Jesus humbles Himself to take to himself our infidelity. The Beloved Son stripped Himself of the grandeur that was His as God’s Beloved Son and clothed Himself in the flesh of sinful humanity so that sinful humanity might be clothed in His divinity.
The Scriptures tell us how throughout history God has desired to be with His beloved people. Today He enters the City where His name is enshrined and glorified. Through the mystery of the Incarnation, He united human nature to Himself in an unbreakable bond of love. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities so that by His wounds we might be healed and made whole. For our sake Jesus willingly endured His passion and death. He remained obedient to the Father even to the point of death. In His meekness, Jesus reveals the pride and iniquity of the human heart. In the face of rejection, Jesus reveals the mercy of the heart of God. In love’s embrace, His heart speaks to ours. In that moment of communion, each of us can be brought to newness of life in Christ, Who makes the love of God tangible. God’s ways are merciful, loving, and welcoming. God’s words propose, they do not impose. Unlike us, when He talks to us, He also listens for a response. Recall these words taken from the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, “That we might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose again for us, he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father, as the first fruits for those who believe.” Let us walk humbly with our God and when He returns in glory may we follow Him into everlasting life.