Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

This is the time of the year we are called to remember and relive the events, which brought about our redemption and salvation. What we commemorate and relive during this week is not just Jesus’ dying and rising, but our own dying and rising in him, which will result in our healing, reconciliation, and redemption. Proper participation in the Holy Week liturgy will deepen our relationship with God, increase our faith and strengthen our lives as disciples of Jesus. Today’s liturgy combines two contrasting moments of glory and suffering -the welcome of Jesus in Jerusalem and the drama of his trial culminating in his crucifixion.

Bishop Fulton Sheen speaks of the worst paradox that was ever written in history. On the one hand the sovereignty of the Lord and on the other His need. This is the combination of Divinity and dependence, of possession and poverty was the consequence of the Word becoming Flesh.

He was rich became poor for our sake, that we might become rich. He borrowed a boat from a fisherman from which to preach; He borrowed barley loaves and fishes from a boy to feed the multitude; He borrowed a grave from which He would rise; and now He borrowed an ass on which to enter Jerusalem.

In the second part of today’s Gospel, we listen to the Passion of Christ according to Mark.  We are challenged to examine our own lives in the light of some of the characters in the Passion story – like Peter who denied Jesus, Judas who betrayed Jesus, Herod who ridiculed Jesus, Pilate who acted against his conscience as he condemned Jesus to death on the cross, and the leaders of the people who preserved their position by getting rid of Jesus.

The Pharisees: They were religious men, who devoted all their energy to doing good and study of God’s Law. They were absolutely convinced of their own rightness, and history shows that such men are capable of the most appalling evil.

Caiphas: He was preoccupied with religious orthodoxy and how easily people led astray by false Messiahs. History of the church proves blunders in the name of the Gospel.

Pilate: He knew that Christ was innocent, but gave in to the demands of the people rather than justice be done. He was more worried about the security of his job.

Judas: A man of no character, who could never be trusted. He preferred money, and was ready to betray his master. The same betrayal continues even today in the lives of many people.

Peter: A weak and cowardly man. Jesus forgave him because he repented. When we refuse to stand for the truth and refuse to speak up, we too fall into the same boat.

The soldiers: They simply carried out the orders without thinking. We too often take up this position without taking up responsibility.

The crowd: They were influenced and carried away without knowing what was happening. We too often carried away by the crowd when we do not stand up for the truth.

Will Jesus need to cleanse my heart with His whip?  Jesus cannot tolerate the desecration of the temple of the Holy Spirit in me by my addiction to uncharitable, unjust and impure thoughts words and deeds; neither does He approve of my calculation of loss and gain in my relationship with God.

Do I welcome Jesus into my heart?  Am I ready to surrender my life to Him during this Holy Week and welcome Him into all areas of my life as my Lord and Savior, singing “Hosanna”? Today, we receive palm branches at the Divine Liturgy. Let us take them to our homes and put them some place where we can always see them. Let the palms remind us that Christ is the King of our families that Christ is the King of our hearts and that Christ is the only true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in our lives. And if we do proclaim Christ as our King, let us try to make time for Him in our daily life; let us be reminded that He is the One with whom we will be spending eternity. Let us be reminded further that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary. Let us prioritize and place Christ the King as the primary concern in our lives. It is only when we have done this that we will find true peace and happiness in our confused and complex world.

Are we ready to become like the humble donkey that carried Jesus?   As we “carry Jesus” to the world, we can expect to receive the same welcome that Jesus received on Palm Sunday, but we must also expect to meet the same opposition, crosses and trials later.  Like the donkey, we are called upon to carry Christ to a world that does not know Him. Let us always remember that a Christian without Christ is a contradiction in terms.  Such a one betrays the Christian message. Hence, let us become transparent Christians during this Holy Week, enabling others to see in us Jesus’ universal love, unconditional forgiveness and sacrificial service.

5th Sunday of Lent (B)

“We want to see Jesus”

The word of God of the day presents us with a challenge: Just as Jesus became the “Promised Messiah of Glory” and the” Conquering Son of Man” by offering his life for others, we, too, must possess Heaven by dying to self and spending our lives in self-giving, sacrificial service.  They focus on the upcoming death of Jesus, which is interpreted not only as a priestly sacrifice (Heb. 5) but also as the moment of his “exaltation” and “glorification” (Jn. 12). The Gospel hints at Jesus’ inner struggle in accepting the cup of suffering to inaugurate the New and everlasting Covenant.  However, Jesus accepts the cross as his “hour,” meaning the stepping-stone to his passion, death, Resurrection and exaltation.

Some Greek pilgrims who were either new converts to Judaism or mere ‘truth-seekers’ were greatly impressed by the royal reception given to Jesus on Palm Sunday and by the subsequent cleansing of the Temple by Jesus.  Hence, they approached the apostle Philip who had a Greek name and requested a private interview with the Master.  When Jesus was told about the presence of some people who wanted to see him, he knew that his hour had come. His death and his glorification were near at hand. When someone really searches for him, it convinces him that the end of his life is near. If someone among us is interested in Jesus, he should remember that it is not just personal curiosity that leads him to seek Jesus, but rather, the desire of Jesus to offer himself for each one of us. Jesus himself said so: “when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.” Jesus’ death on the cross for us is the source and the reason for our interest in him. Despite our fickleness and forgetfulness, Jesus has paid a high price to gain our attention. If we forget this, it will be more difficult for us to come back to him. It was to ensure that we show an interest in him and a desire to meet him, that Jesus died on the cross for us.

The hour of glorification for the “Son of Man”: The “hour” Jesus refers to is his time for glorifying his Heavenly Father and of being glorified by his Father.  It is also the way by which he draws all people into the saving action of God.  Jesus’ being “lifted up” on the cross to glorify his Father reminds us that we too can glorify God by wholeheartedly accepting our crosses from our loving Heavenly Father.

Jesus uses the occasion to declare that he is the “Son of Man” prophesied by Daniel, and that his time of glorification is at hand.  He immediately corrects the false notion of a political messiah hoped and longed by the Jewish people by stating that he is going to be glorified by his suffering, death and Resurrection. The term “Son of Man” is taken from Daniel 7:13.  The seventh chapter begins with the description of a frightening vision of Daniel in which he sees the cruel and savage world powers of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians as wild beasts like a winged lion, a bear with three tusks, a four-headed leopard and a terrible, ten-horned wild beast.  At last, Daniel sees a gentle, humane and gracious ruler in the form of a man.  The Jews, under repeated foreign rules and bondages, dreamed of such a God-sent ruler and preferred to call this “promised Messiah” by the name “Son of Man.”  It was but natural that the apostles shared this view and consequently saw the “Son of Man” in Jesus.  Jesus promptly corrected them, however, replacing their dream of conquest and political power with a vision of His cross and suffering.

The metaphors of the “dying grain of wheat” and of the “surrendered life”: Jesus explains to his apostles that it is by his suffering and death that he is bringing life and liberation to the sinful world, just as a grain of wheat sown in the field ceases to remain itself alone, “just a seed,” by germinating and then growing into a plant which produces many new grains of wheat.  In the same way, it is by the self-sacrificial lives of holy men and women that life and salvation come to mankind.  In other words, when we “die” to our selfishness, we “rise” to new life in Jesus Christ.  To be “buried in the earth” means avoiding sin, accepting suffering and living for others.

Each of us is a like a grain of wheat planted by the Heavenly Father. That grain must die if it is to produce a harvest. This dying to self is a gradual process and happens in ordinary ways. Every act of kindness involves dying to meanness. Every act of love involves dying to selfishness. Every act of humility involves dying to pride. Every act of courage involves dying to cowardice. Every act of forgiveness involves dying to bitterness.

When a person’s life is producing a rich harvest of such acts, it means that the grain of wheat has well and truly died. The false self is dying and the true self, made in God’s image, is slowly being born. It is the true self alone that will inherit eternal life, for there is no place for what is false in the presence of God. It would melt like snow before the sun.

4th Sunday of Lent (B)

The Gospel of John is often considered the most difficult of the Gospels – highly symbolic in its expression and deeply theological in its content.  John likes to use terms with more than one meaning and thus invite us to a deeper level of reflection. The core of Christianity is the experience of the love of God in the person of Jesus.  Unlike the other religions in Christianity it is God who takes the initiative and all that we need to do is to respond to it with love and submission. This is the experience of our salvation. Jesus is the visible manifestation of God and believing in Him is being open to the possibility that we can experience God in the person of Jesus.

The Gospel of today makes a comparison with Moses, who was also an agent of God and a savior of God’s people. In this Biblical passage, Jesus was referring to an event that occurred in the days of the Old Testament. The Israelites in the desert had been complaining bitterly about their conditions and were punished by God who sent a plague of serpents among the people and many died. At God’s command, Moses raised up a bronze serpent on a pole “and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered”. John tells us that Jesus too will be lifted up. For John Jesus’ being “lifted up” includes both his being raised up on a cross and being raised up to be with his Father in glory at the resurrection.

B) Believing in Jesus: This includes three elements: 1) the belief that God is our loving Father, 2) the belief that Jesus is the Son of God and, therefore, tells us the truth about God and life, and 3) the belief that we must give unquestioning obedience to Jesus. “I believe in ” means I put my trust in Jesus and I seek to obey Him. The Faith of which our Lord speaks is not just intellectual acceptance of the truths He has taught: it involves recognizing Him as Son of God (cf. 1 John 5:1), sharing His very life (cf. John 1:12) and surrendering ourselves to Him out of love, thereby becoming like Him (cf. John 10:27; 1 John 3:2).

The Gospel of the Gospels: John 3:16 is probably the best loved verse in the Bible and it has been called “everybody’s text” and the “Gospel of the Gospels.”  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” This is the summary of the Gospel message of salvation through Christ Jesus. This text is the very essence of the Gospel. It tells us that the God takes the initiative in all salvation because of His love for man.

God’s love for us is personal as St. Augustine puts it: “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.” It also explains to us the universality of the love of God. God’s motive is love and God’s objective is salvation. Those who actually receive eternal life must believe in the Son.

Gospel reveals that the depth of God’s love is sacrificial. God gave us the only Son, allowed the only Son to be “lifted up” on a cross, and now remains patient with us while we struggle with choosing between darkness and light, evil and truth. Moreover, in the very midst of our ongoing struggle, it is God who brings us to greater belief and leads us to eternal life. Such is the depth of love God has for us. God here sacrifices something most precious to him, his own son so that we may have life in and through him.

God’s love is forgiving: God is love and forgiveness is the essence of this great love God has for us. The parable of the prodigal son is a very powerful example of God’s forgiving attitude. He forgave the sinners and reconciled them to God. “It is mercy that I desire and not sacrifice.” The culmination of it is from the cross “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Love of darkness and God’s judgment:  When we walk according to the teachings of Christ, we are walking in the Light. If we oppose these teachings, we oppose Christ himself; hence, we are walking in darkness. In today’s text, we are told, Light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. There are many dark corners in our world.  Addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography, sexual immorality, environmental irresponsibility, and a lack of purpose among so many of us, especially among young people are a few of these dark corners.  It is very easy to pretend that these dark corners don’t exist.   Our lives matter to God, and He knows all about the dark corners in our lives. He wants us to stop hiding our sin in the dark and demands that we expose every dark corner to His Light of life. He is giving to us the Light that not only shows up the dirt in our lives but cleanse it away. He died so that we could be made new and clean. Freely, the light of His forgiveness shines into our lives, brightening up every corner, forgiving every sin, restoring our relationship with God, renewing our lives.

We need to love the cross, the symbol of God’s forgiving and merciful love: The crucifix – the symbol of the “lifted up” Jesus – holds a central place in our Churches because it is a forceful reminder not only of God’s love and mercy, but also of the price of our salvation.  Hence, no Christian home should be without this symbol of God’s love.  The crucifix invites us to respond with more than compassion; it inspires us to remove the suffering of other people’s misery.  It encourages us not only to feel deep sorrow for another’s suffering, but also to try our best to remove that suffering. Hence, let us love the cross, wear its image and carry our own daily cross with joy.

Let us be bearers of Jesus’ light and carry it to other people. When we allow the Light of God’s forgiveness to shine in our lives, it brightens up every corner, forgives every sin, restores our relationship with God and renews our lives. Whoever follows Jesus will not walk in darkness. We will experience the joy and peace of sins forgiven, of new attitudes and of new relationships with family and friends. Jesus’ Light of truth, justice, holiness and charity shining in our lives ought to bring blessing to others. We are to let this Light of Christ shine through us into the lives of the people around us.  The Light we give to others can dispel the darkness of their lives and bring them to a completely new outlook. Let us not underestimate what the Light of Christ can do through us. As Jesus said: “You are the light of the world…. your light must shine before people so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).

3rd Sunday in Lent (B)

The Gospel of today focuses on cleansing of the Temple by Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, this scene takes place at the end of the “Palm Sunday Procession” into the holy city. With the people shouting out in triumph, Jesus entered into the temple area, not to do homage but to challenge the temple and its leaders. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and upset the stalls of those selling birds and animals for the sacrifice. What a teaching moment this was! Jesus quoted from the Scriptures: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations … but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17, Isaiah 56:6-7, Jeremiah 7:11).

What saddens Jesus is to see the degeneration of a religious place caused by a logic of merchandising the sacred as if God could be bought. It is indeed a petty reduction of God. Instead of worshiping God, gratuitous love, with offerings that show a gratitude for this providential love, it becomes a serious impoverishment of the face of God, who is gratuitous Love. God the Father is not an officer to be bribed or a salesperson appease with a big donation. In short, we cannot bargain with God. He stopped the temple service that had outlived its aim and was no longer relevant existence.

In the Fourth Gospel, the cleansing of the temple takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and not at the beginning of the events of the last days of Jesus’ life. The startling words and actions of Jesus in the temple, whether they are from the Synoptic accounts or John’s account, took on new meaning for later generations of Christians. “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house into a market place!” The temple was not a commercial center or shopping mall but rather a holy place of the Father. Like the prophets before him, Jesus tried to awaken the hearts of his people.

Jesus’ disciples recall him saying in the temple the words of Psalm 68:10: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” When the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans, and both Jews and Christians grieved at its loss, the followers of Jesus recalled this incident in the temple. Now they could see new meaning in it; it was a sign that the old temple was finished but a new temple was to be built. This new temple would not be of stone and wood and gold. It would be a living temple of holy people (I Peter 2:4-6; Ephesians 2:19-22).

Extreme Jesus: One intriguing aspect of today’s Gospel story is the portrait of an angry Jesus in the temple-cleansing scene that gives way to two extremes in our own image of the Lord. Some people wish to transform an otherwise passive Christ into a whip-cracking revolutionary. Others would like to excise any human qualities of Jesus and paint a very meek, bland character, who smiled, kept silent and never rocked the boat. The errors of the old extreme, however, do not justify a new extremism.

Jesus was not exclusively, not even primarily, concerned with social reform. Rather, he was filled with a deep devotion and burning love for his Father and the things of his Father. He wanted to form new people, created in God’s image, who are sustained by his love, and bring that love to others. Jesus’ disciples and apostles recognized him as a passionate figure; one who was committed to life and to losing it for the sake of truth and fidelity.

The Prophets have spoken in the name of God about the kind of worship they ought to do. It is mercy that I desire and not sacrifice. The Lord says: Do you think I like the sacrifices you keep offering to me? Who asked you to do all these when you come to worship me? Who asked you to do all the tramping about in my temple? He continues to say what is right to do. Wash yourselves clean. Stop all evil that I see you doing. Yes, stop evil, and learn to do right. See that justice is done. Help those who are oppressed. Give orphans their right and defend the widows.

After this event Pharisees quizzed Jesus whether he could show any sign to them. Jesus answers that He could rebuild the temple within three days. Jesus was talking about his own body as temple. There is a message for every one of us. Jesus body is a temple. The old temple service is stopped by him and the new temple has been announced. The one in which God is with the orphans and the widows, with the marginalized of the society, with the sinners and the sick. St. Paul reminds us that even our body is the temple of God. Then we should not make it a den of robbers. If my body is the temple of God, our neighbors also are temples of God. This should prompt us to respect and revere them. As temple is kept neat and tidy, we should keep the temple premises, our environment neat and clean.

Message of the cross: In St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (1:18, 22-25), we hear about “the message of the cross that is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” For St. Paul, the cross represents the center of his theology: To say cross means to say salvation as grace given to every creature. It was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. The “scandal” and the “foolishness” of the cross are precisely in the fact that where there seems to be only failure, sorrow and defeat, precisely there, is all the power of the boundless love of God. The cross is the expression of love and love is the true power that is revealed precisely in this seeming weakness.

St. Paul has experienced this even in his own flesh, and he gives us testimony of this in various passages of his spiritual journey, which have become important points of departure for every disciple of Jesus: “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:9); and even “God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something” (1 Corinthians 1:28).