Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” These are the words we heard less than half an hour ago at the beginning of our ceremony when we were gathered in our chapter room before processing into church. Most of you were here in church at the time and didn’t hear them, but I’m sure you remember the episode that appears in all four of the Gospels. Jesus comes riding into Jerusalem on a young ass and the large crowd hails him and they lay down their cloaks and palm branches for him to ride across, sort of like rolling out the red carpet. They’re all excited and they think he’s wonderful. In fact, the wording used in St. Matthew’s Gospel has the crowd acclaiming him as the long-awaited Messiah. What a contrast, then, to hear this morning, less than half an hour later, “Crucify him!” The same crowd, the same city, the same Jesus. In real life, it was only five days later. How fickle, the opinion of people. How quickly it can change. All within the same week they want to make him king, and then they want to torture and kill him. Like the wind, switching directions on a whim, so the approval or disapproval of the crowd.
And yet we have a yearning to be accepted by the crowd, by society, by the masses. We want to fit in. We don’t want to be a loner, a misfit, on the fringes. So much of our self-worth and happiness is tied up with what other people think of us, the opinion of the crowd. So many of our decisions and choices are made with an eye to how other people will see us and perceive us. When we step back it seems silly to base so much of our life on so flimsy and fickle a foundation.
Instead of basing our happiness on what other people think of us, we should be basing it on what God thinks of us. That is the opinion which will stay constant for all eternity. Would you like to know what God thinks of you? Would you like know how much he cares about you? We just heard the account of the extremes he is willing to go for us. He willingly allowed himself to be slapped, spit upon, scourged, mocked, punched, kicked, nailed, and die a slow, excruciating death – all for the love of you. He would have been willing to do it just for you alone. Could he have avoided all of that? You bet. When he was being arrested in the Garden of Olives and Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath . . . Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53).
We are so precious in God’s eyes. We are his beloved sons and daughters. The Father sent his Only Begotten Son into the world to incarnate for us his tender love. Being God, he could have chosen any method to atone for our sins and redeem the world. It seems absurd that he would choose suffering and death, but he wanted to make a lasting impression. How radical that the sign and symbol of Christianity for ages ever after would be the crucifix – something that had only caused people to shudder before. God wanted to put his money where his mouth was and prove to us in an undeniable way how passionate his love for us is and what lengths he is willing to go to win our love.
His love for us is constant; it is unconditional; it does not change with the wind. We do not have to earn it; it is already there. Even when we sin and screw up, his love for us is not diminished. This is what we need to be basing our happiness on. This is what we need to be basing our self-worth on. It is also what we need to be basing our decisions on from day to day and the choices we make. I guess it’s something we need to be reminded of because other people around us we can see, but God we cannot see. It’s kind of a paradox that God is actually more real and lasting than the things around us that our senses relay to our brain. He made all these things. Each thing in creation reflects some little sliver, some little facet of his infinite beauty and goodness. We crave human love and acceptance and affirmation, but God’s love for us is so far above any love we can experience on this earth.
It is so easy to drift away from the realization of God’s great love for us. We are surrounded by the cares and duties of the world. God becomes sort of “out of sight, out of mind.” That’s why it’s important to go to church every Sunday and make time for God every day. We need to keep drawing ourselves back to this awesome fact. Everything else pales in comparison with it. It puts everything else into perspective. That’s the beauty of the monastic life – our wayward hearts and minds are constantly being brought back to the One Thing necessary. I know it probably seemed like a long time on your feet waiting for the end of our Gospel narration today. We’ve all heard it before; we know how it ends; we drift off to other thoughts. But Holy Mother Church wants us never to forget this incredible story of what God was willing to do for us and the consequences it has for our lives.
God’s love for us is immense – infinite, in fact. We will never be able to fathom the bottom of it. We will spend all of eternity discovering more and more. It is a solid rock to build our house upon. The opinion of the crowd is shifting sand.