Reflections for Palm Sunday 2020 April 5

In a book I just purchased, The Seventh Story: Us, Them, and the End of Violence the authors, Gareth Higgin and Brian McLaren, say that we are storytellers which is how we make sense of everything around us from getting up in the morning to contributing to world peace. As other writers tell us, if we want to change our life and want to change the world, we need to begin with stories (e.g. David Korten).

There are six stories that have contributing to shaping our lives as individuals and as societies; that have given meaning, direction and drive without us being fully aware of them or naming them. They are domination, revolution, cleansing from the other, isolation, victimisation, accumulation. These stories impacted on Jesus which he resisted in the lives his disciples and his society because these stories do not work. Jesus’ life was about bringing people together, to heal and free them, whereas these so-called stories caused more division, created more suffering and failed to respond to the quest to making a better world. The heart of Jesus’ message was that the human system is not working. An alternative was needed where equality, compassion, sacrifice and mutual service operate.

According to the authors, Jesus had a seventh story. It is available to all but was, and continues to be, misunderstood and causes fear in those who are in power and have much to lose. Jesus’ story upends what we have been taught by religion, politics and economics. In the face of the Covid-19 (Corona Virus) we have seen how this pandemic has challenged and revealed the weaknesses of religion, economics and politics when it comes to building a new humanity. It is showcasing the failures of capitalism and reveals how quick, those who challenged any welfare or support for people who were poor and vulnerable would become socialists as they now seek handouts in the face of this pandemic. Jesus came to show us how we could embody another story, the seventh story, by seeing ourselves as God sees us, to acknowledge our vulnerability despite thinking we could live and consume without thought of others, and thus change the way we relate to each other and build a peaceable community.

At his birth the angels sang, ‘Peace on earth!’ Now, near the end of his life, Jesus is at the mercy of a mindless mob, who do not want to know about another story, and so scream for his blood. Jesus came as one of us, sought people out and walked our streets - and still does. We see how the world often deals with such a person. His death reveals the incorruptibility of his spirit, the depth of his love and forgiveness, the reality of his relationship with God, and also reveals the barbarity, legal and illegal that we are capable of.

To allow that seventh story take shape, we need to look at him. See him as one of us who called us sisters and brothers. Whilst capable of the worst, he shows us that we are also capable of living justly, loving tenderly, showing deep compassion for the stranger and the sick, and being in solidarity with all of creation. People in crowds have no connections with each other. The call is to become a community – a new community.

We cannot wave palms this year which suggest open hands of love and welcome, we know from the Passion how quickly those hands became fists. That is the way of crows! It is also important to be aware that during a pandemic the hands can become fists. This Child continues to fall victim to ever new cadres of fearful leaders who use fear to control people. Like so many people before and after him, Jesus dies at the hands of power but this time the bloodshed changes everything. God's love is revealed in it. When it was all over, the world was a different place, and the world knew it as was revealed in the earth shaking, rocks splitting, and tombs opening to the light. God [became] flesh and blood in order to bring love to life. God comes to find us where we are.

We cannot close our eyes to reality. There is just too much suffering. The innocent, the poor and the vulnerable are spared suffering. The good, the poor and vulnerable are not spared suffering. But this is place is sacred. Jesus reminds us that God has entered our ‘holy city’ - those places of defeat and pain in our lives and transformed them and contradicted our usual ways of dealing with the cross rather than with might. As on Good Friday, something different happens today. We must take part as actors or participants in the drama. There can be no spectators. We cannot avoid Jesus’ continuing passion and wounds in the world and Covid-19 reveals deep wounds in our world – the wounds of exceptionalism, individualism, dog-eat-dog that cause further wounds in many people. So old ways of thinking need to be put aside: might is not right; power does not liberate; death is not the end of life; success does not measure human worth; violence does not end conflict. God is not indifferent to human suffering. The entry into the holy city makes every place of suffering holy ground. The God who invites all people into God’s reign welcomes not so much the powerful, the victorious or the dominant but the grieving, the poor, the meek, the peace-makers, the persecuted – the ones the world might shun as ‘losers’. The heart of Jesus’ message was that the human system is not working. An alternative is needed where equality, compassion, sacrifice and mutual service operate. Where power is not grasped and asserted over others, but is given away and shared. Jesus has stopped talking but reveals the destructive horror of the powers by submitting to their evil machinations. He exposes the emptiness, the poverty, the hidden vulnerability of those in power by choosing a different way, a way of love and grace and peace.

Each of us must join Jesus and go ‘up to Jerusalem.’ Like Jesus, our personal Jerusalem may be a place where we seem to be losers: where our faith values are disregarded or trashed; where we face daily encounters with forces that oppose our best efforts; where political structures defeat the disenfranchised; where the world of high tech and privileged education broaden the gap between the haves and the have-nots. We are called to be present to our own experience of Jerusalem and there we are invited to take up the cross and risk what previously we have cherished and clung to.

Compiled by Claude Mostowik msc,

Director, Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre

Convenor, Pax Christi Australia [NSW]

President, Pax Christi Australia

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