“He was a burning shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light.” (John 5:35) Given all the readings for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Jesus might well have spoken these words about himself instead of John the Baptist. Today’s readings begin with Luke’s account of Jesus’ reaching the goal of his journey, Jerusalem, and then entering the city to the cries of the people who are so overjoyed they throw down their precious cloaks to carpet the roadway. What enthusiasm!
But even before we get to the great hymn of Thanksgiving and Praise (the Eucharistic Prayer) we witness the crowds turning away from the shining light and crying out for his death as a common criminal. The reasons for this shift are many and complex. The readings from Isaiah, Philippians, and Luke can direct us to one: a tendency in the human heart that, when the going gets tough or does not meet our expectations, we turn our back on it or walk away from it.
In its original setting, the identity of Isaiah’s suffering servant is not known, but since its earliest days, the Christian community has understood the servant to be Jesus Christ. We listen as Jesus, the servant, with exquisite trust is ever attentive and obedient to Abba, the Father, even though it will bring suffering and rejection. We learn his purpose is to comfort, encourage and save us. A suffering, rejected person hardly fits the deep hopes and expectations of people for their king and savior! What are our deep desires and expectations of life?
The Christic Hymn in Philippians could be even more disturbing and off-putting: God who is totally Other, all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. relinquishes these attributes, becomes human and allows death to have its claim. The Passion narrative echoes the hymn and supplies us with concrete details. The hymn, unlike the Passion narrative, finishes with Jesus’ exaltation.
These three readings reveal the true identity of Jesus, the Messiah: he is Son of God, the one who turns our understanding of who God is on its head. (As disciples of Jesus Christ our knowledge of God, which comes through our ever-deepening relationship with him, is not just an intellectual exercise. We strive to know God so that we can be God’s active presence in our world, working with God’s Spirit to bring about justice, freedom from suffering, oppression, and all that keeps people and creation from knowing their dignity and worth as beloved of God.)
Those who met Jesus in his earthly life, like us, had to confront unrealized expectations, confusion, and misunderstandings. And we, like them, have to struggle to allow the truth of who God is and God’s way of being and loving to transform us.
This week that we call “holy” offers us many opportunities to set some of the activity of our life on “pause” and to find the time and space to be with Jesus as he gives himself up for each of us. This confident surrender is so that we can realize how deadly serious God is about sharing life with us. Let us pray for each other that we might hear and respond to God’s Word again and anew. Blessings on your Holy Week!
–Sr. Jean Flannelly, SC
After more than 35 years preparing men and women for ordained and lay ministry in the Church, Sister Jean currently ministers in adult spirituality and adult faith formation through workshops and spiritual direction.