Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sorrow and Joy

Palm Sunday Year A

Today’s liturgy is full of contrasts and contradictions. At the beginning of the mass, we had the joyful atmosphere of the procession, reminding us of the warm welcome that Jesus received upon entering Jerusalem. But as we entered the church, the mood turns somber. The mood swings to one of sorrow as we see Jesus fulfil the prophecy of the Suffering Servant made by Isaiah in the first reading. This change of atmosphere is certainly intentional. It is intended to awaken us from our misconceptions of who God is – of who Jesus is. Let us take a closer look at the readings to understand Jesus better. When we are able to understand Jesus a little better, we will also understand our roles as his disciples much better.

Jesus is given a grand welcome when he enters Jerusalem. People are waving palm leaves in the same way that children in modern times wave flags to welcome an important state dignitary. The people’s welcome of Jesus was quite similar. Jesus received the welcome of a triumphant and home-coming king. The people were expecting Jesus to lead them in a rebellion to overthrow the Roman government. But his actions within the next few days would disappoint them. Instead of portraying himself as a strong political leader, Jesus takes on the role of a humble servant.

The crowds shouted: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” They considered wealth, power and popularity as blessings from God. But Jesus will show that to be truly blessed, one must be prepared to do the will of the Father. Instead of glory received from people, Jesus would suffer humiliation and rejection from them as the Suffering Servant in the first reading. He will be glorified by God on the cross.

Jesus is God – the Absolute Being – the one who created the entire universe. Yet, Jesus chose to humble himself to take the form of a human being – a creature. Jesus chose to give his life on the cross so that we sinners may receive salvation. When he chose to make himself the smallest, God chose to glorify him and raise him up to the highest position in all the universe.

The passion reading is also full of irony. Jesus is arrested in a violent way but reminds his disciples to reject all forms of violence. Jesus is accused of blasphemy but his critics are actually the ones guilty of blasphemy for having insulted Jesus, God made man. Jesus, the innocent one, is put to death while the murderer, Barrabbas is set free.

Our lives must also follow the example of Jesus. The world may laugh at us. The world may call us fools. But that is the cost of following Jesus. If we want to be disciples of Jesus, we must be prepared to follow his footsteps. As disciples of Christ, our lives must be in contradiction of the values of the world. Where the world values power, we must value humility. Where the world values strength and even physical force in order enforce an ideal, we must be peacemakers. Where the world values popularity, we must be prepared to receive criticism and insults from those who do not understand us. We must be living contradictions.

During this Mass, let us pray for the grace to walk steadily with Jesus. There will be times we will feel like giving up. There will be times we will feel like negotiating with God to ask him to take the cup of suffering from us. There will be times we will cry out in near despair: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” But if we were to persevere, the Lord will give us the glory that will never wither. Let us follow Jesus to the cross.

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