“The Messiah Received”
Palm Sunday: March 20, 2016
Isaiah 50: 4 – 9/ Psalm 31: 9 – 15/Philippians 2: 5 – 11/ Luke 23: 1–25
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
Holy Week forever changed the course of history for man and for the whole creation, the cosmos. It was through an act of a very radical, scandalous, often misunderstood, even offensive love. People did not agree how Jesus was doing things. They preferred insurrection, aggression and murder over humility, righteousness and love. They asked for Barabbas instead of Jesus. St. Paul said in Philippians 2 that even though Jesus was God and was in a position of power and strength, He did not grasp, assert and utilize His power. Instead, Jesus became humble and obedient to God.
We live in a society where people utilize, grasp and assert power. Haven’t you heard this statement from people of political power saying, “What are we in power for if not to take advantage of it?” It is using power for leverage, for self-gain. Jesus could have fought and reasoned and He would have been right. He could have taken the people on a guilt trip by saying, “All of you are waving your palm branches and shouting “Hosanna”, but come Friday, all of you would betray and crucify Me!” He does not do this because this is not Him. People accused Him; treated Him with contempt, scorned Him, and deserted Him, but He did not get back at them.
I am showing you the contrast of God’s way and the world’s way. The world’s way has crept into the Church. Our zeal for religion, for what we think is right, causes us to have an attitude of, “Crucify him,” because of a wrong act. If the Pharisees were alive today, all of us probably would be crucified. For example, if we can be asked, “How did we spend Sabbath? Do we still eat unclean food?” If we reason, the Pharisees would say, “But it is written…” We are all guilty. In the Old Testament, they had the zeal for the Law that they would stone people and have due punishment for certain wrongs; and yet at the same time, they have a provision for atonement of sin. What should be followed? Atonement or meting out the sentence? This confuses me and I would rather hold on to the mercy of God and His forgiveness.
This was the attitude of the crowd led by no less than the religious and their zeal for justice. This was what Paul was doing - killing and executing Christians because he was so zealous and so religious and he thought he was doing it in the name of God until that road to Damascus. The root of all of this zeal without knowledge is a notion of the written Word divorced from knowledge of the Person who is the Word and who sheds light on it.
St. Paul knew the written Word and then he had an encounter with the Person Word. The Word of God is not a piece of literature; the Word of God is a Person; He is alive. We will know what is written about Him more fully, more clearly, if we know the Person Himself – if we have an encounter with Him. People had an idea of the literature about the Person and this is what they all based their zeal on. It was not with the knowledge, the encounter and a relationship with the Person himself until St. Paul went on the Damascus road and he met the Person who, up until that point, he just read about. He said in Philippians that he will throw them away because it was rubbish because he had an encounter with the Person Himself.
Oftentimes, we have a skewed sense of religion and our sense of justice is sometimes clouded by a feeling of hate and a lack of love. Like in the case of St. Paul, he did not know who love was. He only met Him on the road to Damascus. Love is a who; God is love. Love is not an idea or a notion, but a person. The perfect personification was Jesus. Love is a who in the same way that the Word of God is a who not a what.
The goal of law is primarily peace and order. It is not the establishment of guilt and the meting out of punishment. The goal of the law is for the common good, not necessarily to pin down people. In an exclusive village, the residents started a project called “Gotcha” which was the traffic law in the village to have peace and order. The project was after getting people not having peace and order. In one’s home, parents would say to their children, “Clean up this mess.” Children would say, “I did not make up the mess.” Parents would reply, “I did not ask who did it! What I am after is for the mess to be cleaned up and not to punish whoever made the mess.” The concern was the cleanliness of the house, not the crucifixion of whoever is responsible. I am not saying that it is not part of the process, but what we are after is beautification, improvement and betterment. It is not punishment. Discipline has its place. Children may be doing what was right in their own eyes thinking that it was the right thing to do, but it is not! Having the same attitude as Jesus is the right thing to do. His zeal was for God’s house. His zeal was not, “Gotcha!” His zeal was not, “You did this and that. You get crucified.” No, His zeal was for the sake of God’s house out of compassion - not out of legalism and religiosity.
Jesus does not cuddle sinners and condone sin, but He is corrective, not punitive. Punitive is oftentimes motivated by apathy, a lack of love and even hate; corrective is motivated by love and correction includes discipline. Discipline is toward correction and punishment is not the end. The end is correction. The Eucharistic prayer says, “When we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, You and Your mercy sent Jesus Christ Your only Son to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us and to reconcile us to You, the God and Father of all.” This is the purpose and the end. It is not the stoning of people. Jesus came to make all things which He owns. If He owns all things, He does not want to destroy but to restore them. He came to make all things new and not to mete out punishment.
Instead of reproaches against the Palm Sunday crowd, He did not count their sins against them. He pardoned them, seventy times seven, and He even prayed for them for the Father to forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing. He set aside His privileges, as Philippians says, and in Isaiah, it says that He gave His back to the strikers and His cheek to pluck the beard. He became obedient to the point of death, even to the lowest form of it. He took the punches for the sake of the very people beating Him up.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He did not ride on a war horse. He was seated on a donkey. He was sending a message. A horse is a symbol for war, for aggression. A donkey is a symbol of humility, of peace, of non-violence, of offering your cheek, by the giving of your cloak. The militant zealots did not agree with Him, but His meekness is what makes the entry into Jerusalem triumphant.
Why do most of the Bibles have for the heading for this story, “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem? It was triumphant God’s way. It was through humility. Jesus did not go through Rambo annihilation mode. He could have summoned legions of angels and wreaked havoc on the earth, but He did not. This is what “In the Name of the Lord” means – humility, meekness. People shouted, “Hosanna!” How would He save us? Was it with catapults, arrows and swords or chariots of fire? No, He was riding on a donkey without weapons and offering His back to those who struck Him.
St. Paul says that we should have the same attitude. It takes humility, a quickness to hear, a slowness to speak and to judge. He also says to do nothing from selfishness, that of contentiousness and being argumentative. Do not assert your ways to others; do not impose your ways and opinions on others. Don’t be obstinate, intransigent and competitive. We should have this attitude of saying, “Sige, talo na ako. Mawalan na ako, magkaroon ka lang.” (“I am giving in. It doesn’t matter if I lose for as long as you gain.”) St. Paul said to regard others as more important than yourself.
There is the story of Jose Rizal who lost a pair of his slippers in the river while riding the boat. What he did is to throw the other pair into the water saying, “I hope that whoever finds a pair of the slippers will also find the other one so that he could have both. I would rather lose the pair just so that another would have it.” In the gospel, there was also the dispute between two mothers before Solomon and his court on who was the mother of the child. The fake mother said, “Let us half the child,” and this was so that both of them would not have a child. The real mother said, “I would rather let you get my child and lose him rather than him being dead.” This is the opposite of insisting that you are always right. We are to do nothing out of contention and selfishness, and this takes humility.
Sometimes, it is difficult for us to rejoice with those who rejoice. In an office, when somebody gets promoted, does one say, “Great! He was promoted not me!” No, we say, “Why him, Lord, and not me? That is not fair! I am bitter.” We can’t rejoice with our brother and our sister. We also find it difficult to weep with them. It is easier to laugh at their misery. We have this attitude because we lack the knowledge of the Person who is love. Instead of humility, we regard one another as more important than ourselves. I would like you to look into the songs, “Kahit Konti” by Florante, which talks about giving and “We Can Work It Out” by the Beatles.
Regarding one as more important than ourselves requires being of the same mind and for us to be intent on one purpose. We are not to be intent on winning the argument, but in fulfilling God’s will and going after the common good. Psalm 51 says, “You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.” God doesn’t speak accusations against us and He doesn’t rub it in our face. Jesus did not argue His case against man’s failure; He did not magnify the sins of men; He did not even wait until man acknowledged his sin. He died for them. While we were yet sinners, God sought our welfare because this is what the Cross is all about, and we are called to follow Him carrying our crosses.
Love, God’s nature, enabled and empowered Jesus to die with the least, the lost, the lonely, the unlovable and even the untrustworthy. Can you imagine Jesus, after resurrecting, going to Peter and saying, “You denied Me three times! You are the reason why I got crucified! I fed you so much bread and fish and yet you denied Me!” However, Jesus did not say this. Instead, He said, “Peter, do you love Me?” Imagine asking this of someone who denied you three times and deserted you while people were sentencing you to death and while people were spitting at you? Peter was the very first person who said, “I will die for You.” Jesus did not accuse Peter and did not look into his sin, but instead Jesus said, “If you love Me, I entrust to you My flock.” We can ask, “Jesus, the person who betrayed You, is this Your way of coming in the Name of the Lord? He betrayed You three times just like Judas did!”
Are we like Jesus or are we like the Pharisees who condemn and don’t give a chance? Are we one to say, “No! He must be crucified!” Peter had to be crucified for he denied the Lord God! However, he received forgiveness and on top of that he was made the first Pope! I don’t understand this at this point but God’s ways are higher than mine and we must fill the gap by faith. St. Paul said that this is why God highly exalted Jesus. He is the Second Adam as the first Adam failed. He is the perfect man and He shows us how to fulfill calling our calling to have dominion over the earth through obedience, forgiveness and the laying down of one’s life for all of creation, service of them and others. It is not aggression and not self-advancement.
Having the same attitude is our highest praise and this is what would give full meaning to this Holy Week. This is what would give full meaning to Christ’s passion and death. This is what would best prepare us for a glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday. However, in order to get there, we go through the week and in the Name of the Lord, deny ourselves, carry our cross and we follow Jesus and we become humble like Him. The way to Easter, which is our journey, involves the Cross like Jesus showed us, and this is the very way it is in the kingdom of our God.