Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Last Sunday some Greek pilgrims came to Jesus’ disciples saying: ‘We want to see Jesus’. One wonders what they were looking for. A healer? A miracle worker? One who take on the system? Whatever it was, Jesus responded by using the image of the grain of wheat that needs to die in order to live and give life. This image is lived out in the Passion story. A unique characteristic of our faith is the constant invitation to become part of the story of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth and of God’s ongoing love for the world. The entry into Jerusalem was not a parade but a protest in response to the militarism and oppressive dominance of the Roman Pontus Pilate who entered Jerusalem from the West. In our story, Jesus rides in on a donkey from the other side of town and the people hoping for an end to Roman oppression, thinking Jesus would be the one to bring it about.
As move through Mark we hear how Jesus constantly changes the rules for what it means to be human. Around Australia there will be rallies and marches for peace and refugee rights. We cannot read the Palm Sunday story without reflecting on the longing for change in people around the world whether it be about gun violence, deaths in custody, First Nations’ voice to Parliament, Myanmar, food riots, domestic violence, respect for women, climate change, refugee rights. In each case it not just about showing up with flashy protest signs but about changing systems that cause injustice which happens through the hard work of moving an entire culture toward a new way of seeing the world by shifting laws and systems.
Mark may be telling us that the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is a reminder that change comes, not just in protesting alone, but engaging in the difficult and tedious and uncomfortable and hard work of living the gospel. We need to go to the places that hurt and confront realities that make us uneasy, look at ourselves with attention to the ways in which we fail. For Jesus and his disciples, getting to that point in the story today was not easy. It took years of preaching and teaching, sacrifice, hard work, planning, organisation. Jesus ended up on a cross alone. Even his disciples did not learn the lesson Jesus tried to teach them – that real change—in our lives and in our world—takes painstaking attention to the details, to the work that happens behind the scenes and even after a moment like the one they had in the streets of Jerusalem that day. Jesus’ death is the ultimate act of nonviolence. He refused to given to the logic of violence and power but revealed the power of love.
It is not easy to make a movement, of preparing to live into what we cannot see, hearts filled with faith that God will be with us no matter what we face ahead of us. Jesus invites us to join him in living a gospel that will take our whole lives, every moment, every day, dedicated to ushering in a new reality. Can we find the courage to keep showing up? Throughout history women and men have shown us what it looks like to live lives of nonviolent and sacrificial love. So today, again, we are called to be participants, not spectators, in this drama. Being a spectator makes the liturgy into theatre with little effect on our Christian commitment to follow Jesus in a world marked by violent threats towards anyone foolish enough to speak truth to power and challenge the status quo such Julian Assange, Bernard Collaery, Witness K in Australia, Oscar Romero in El Salvador, Gandhi in India; Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Franz Jägerstätter in Nazi Germany; Stephen Biko in South Africa; Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States.
We are called this week to renew our commitment to be involved in the challenges and struggles of our world. God is involved with the pain and suffering of our world. God is involved in our quest for justice and peace. God calls us to a new vision of life, mercy, and redemption. Peace – the victory of shalom - is won by the awesome power of compassionate love, in and through solidarity with those who suffer.
The psychologist, Carl Jung, told the story of a man who asked a rabbi why God was revealed to many people in the past, but nobody sees God today. The rabbi answered, ‘Because nowadays no one bows low enough.’ Perhaps we are looking for God in all the wrong places. The prophetic examples just mentioned knew where to look and to respond. People share themselves with people in prison and learn what abuse, abandonment, violence, loss of friends, family, future and failure means. People, mostly religious women it seems, who sit with people who have been trafficked overseas and here in Australia, and caught up in sexual and many other forms of exploitation.
Jesus’ death reveals God’s continuing identification with all victims through to the present moment. The Crucified reveals a God who now questions any form of worship that forgets the tragic world where the weak, defenceless continue to suffer and be ‘crucified’; a world where even churches can put in sprinklers in doorways to prevent the homeless finding rest there at night!
Now Jesus’ crucifixion becomes an ongoing challenge to us: God cannot be separated from those who are suffering. We cannot adore the Crucified One and avert our eyes or turn our backs on the suffering of so many human beings whose lives are destroyed by hunger, war, and poverty…. And further neglect when they are blamed for their circumstances and punished for seeking protection (e.g., asylum seekers). We rebel against this culture of neglect and indifference (Pope Francis). God calls out to us through these victims. Otherwise we cannot see God. We cannot be spectators to this suffering or nourish a naive illusion of innocence.
We must keep watch and not avert our gaze from Christ’s continuing passion in the world. God is not indifferent to us. Jesus’ entry into the holy city makes every place of suffering holy ground. When we Christians lift our eyes to the face of the Crucified One, we see God’s reckless and extravagant love for all. We need to look at the face of the Crucified and find there the faces of many others near and far who call on our compassionate love and solidarity. It is still the powerless that Jesus is closest to – the converted enemy, the turncoat imperial soldier who proclaims Jesus’ innocence. And it is the he who constantly proclaims our faith across the centuries, over the Golgothas of world history saying: ‘Truly’ all of us aliens, women, marginalised and turncoats come to declare, ‘Truly, this was God’s son.’
So where are we looking? Palm Sunday galvanises us to transformative action. It gives us a glimpse of the victory of love over hatred and life over death. God’s unconditional love in Jesus brought about the victory of shalom. We are therefore encouraged to work and turn the tide in favour of the least of our brothers and sisters, confident that the Reign of God will prevail. We see in Jesus the way of disarming hatred with love, evil with goodness, violence with benevolence, indifference with compassion.