And the multitudes that went before,
and that followed, cried, saying,
`Hosanna to the son of David; Blessed
is he who comes in the name of the
Lord; Hosanna in the highest.'
Matthew Ch. 21:9.
The multitude .cried out the more,
saying, let Him be crucified.
Matthew Ch. 27:23.
Full readings: Palm Sunday procession – St. Matthew 21.1-11
Mass readings: Isaiah 50. 4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2. 6-11; St. Matthew 26.14 – 27. 66.
Holy Week begins and ends with demonstrations from the Jewish people and highlights the fickleness of the people in contrast to the constancy of our Lord. On Palm Sunday our Lord resolves to ride into Jerusalem and expose Himself publicly, even though He realized the dangers as the Jewish religious leaders have been clamouring for His arrest, especially after the raising of Lazarus from the dead. From the Roman Governor’s view, this was a dangerous time to keep peace and order with the impending Jewish Passover festival and the last thing the Roman authorities wanted was a riot stirred up by religious fanaticism. So when Christ enters Jerusalem the atmosphere is tense.
As Our Lord set out from the Mount of Olives for the final descent into the holy city many people had gathered on roadside to welcome Him. Many of these had no doubt witnessed His healings, and listened to His preaching, but some perhaps were there to have a glimpse of this Christ Who had been causing a stir by His rather radical teaching. As crowds go this would not have much different from any other crowd then and ever since. The majority found themselves going along with the general consensus, which was to acknowledge joyfully Jesus as a king. Yet within five days the consensus changed. The Jewish religious leaders had no difficulty in relying on mob hysteria and fickleness. There was something better in the air for them on Good Friday or so they thought!
The central figure of Palm Sunday is our Blessed Lord despite the clamour from the crowd. His teaching on this day is simple for His followers, but difficult for the bystander: peace, illustrated by riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a horse. The Prince of Peace proclaims that His kingdom is one of peace. There is no violence, no retaliation, no retribution in His kingdom. Two wrongs never make a right under any circumstance in His kingdom. Palm Sunday teaches us to absorb all the hurts, heartaches and the heaviness, otherwise peace will never reign in us or in the world. Peace comes from turning the other cheek, going the extra mile and giving and giving of self and time to others until we are drained just as our Lord was drained for us.
So Palm Sunday gives us the opportunity to examine our own faithfulness to Christ. On this wonderful day when we process and wave our palm branches and take our palm crosses home for yet another year, it is all so easy to be caught up with the excitement of it all and get carried along by the very moving Palm Sunday liturgy. The test comes the next day. Are we prepared to stay with Our Lord in Jerusalem as the atmosphere changes towards Him? Do we dare to stand by Him as He faces constant conflict with the religious leaders? Do we love Him enough to want to bathe His weary feet? Do we stay with Him in prayer in the Garden? Are our bodies and souls drained as He dies on the Cross? All these encounters should be included in our cry of “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He comes in the name of the Lord” to-day.
As well as Palm Sunday piercing our souls for faithfulness for the whole of this Holy week, it also should pierce our conscience in regards to our overall faithfulness. Again like Palm Sunday festivities, it is rather easy to strive towards holiness when everything seems to be going well but when the bolt out of the blue strikes, what then? When we have to suffer endlessly whether through physical or spiritual pain, especially if it is inflicted on us by others, what then? When God seems far removed from us and all is dark and despondent, what then? When life seems empty and aimless, what then? Has our faith rooted itself deeply enough to help us cope with these situations, so that they do not control us? Can we see such situations as growing times in holiness or better still more Christ-like? Or are we fickle? Use this week as a growing time in faithfulness to Christ.
As I welcome you this day with my palm branch and sing my “Hosannas”, may it be done with sincerity and in the knowledge that before I welcome you as the Risen Lord on Easter morn, my knees must watch and pray with Yours in Your agonized moments in Gethesamene, my feet must tread with Yours along the streets of Jerusalem, and my soul experience Your anguish and grief on the cross. Give me Your grace to follow my Lord to Calvary. Amen.
ANOINTING AND CLEANSING
Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard,
anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair.
John 12. 3.
Full readings: Isaiah 41. 1-7; Pslam, 27 1-3, 13-4; St. John 12.1-11. John is explicit this event took place six days for the Passover and before our Lord entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday while Mark placed it within the Passion narrative by having this anointing taking place two days before the Passover, and Luke has it some time earlier in the ministry. John is explicit that it took place in the home of Lazarus and Martha and Mary at Bethany, and it is Mary, the one who sat at our Lord’s feet listening to His words on a previous visit who lavishly anointed her Master in anticipation of His burial. John’s version also has overtones of Luke’s version of the sinful woman who in breaking her flask of alabaster oil manifested how generous she was to the Master who forgave her sins. Is John then hinting that although Christ is the triumphant Messiah, He is about to die for the sin of mankind? Mark’s version also has the woman anonymous who anoints Christ’s head in the home of Simon of Bethany. Whoever the woman was, although I like to think it is Mary, she is highly recommended by Christ for her loving deed. Mark recorded “Truly I tell you: wherever the gospel is proclaimed throughout the world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of he” (14.9). Can our Lord commend us by our loving actions to Him, especially in serving others? To-day we should ponder hard on the implications of Mary’s loving deed to her Master. Once resolved to come to Jerusalem, Jesus is fearless. He knows only one thing, and that is to do God’s business. And God’s business and that of the religious authorities in Jerusalem are not the same. Holy Monday has been linked traditionally with our Lord’s cleansing of the temple. By cleansing the temple of all its cheating and overall corruption, Jesus was directly challenging the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders. The temple was built for God and for His people to come there to be with Him in prayer. “For thither the tribes go up, ... to give thanks unto the name of the Lord.” (Ps.122:4) However it had become “a den of thieves”. In a sense Jesus threw down his gauntlet!
Just as Jesus challenged the hypocrisy of these religious leaders, so does He challenge and confront every kind of hypocrisy and insincerity, all cheating and deceitfulness in our lives and societies. Any act that cannot stand the piercing glare of Christ has to be either purged or extricated from us. Hypocrisy is the direct opposite to purity, and thus we have to remember our Lord’s saying that only the pure in heart will be able to see God, and enter His kingdom.
Put in the form of another of our Lord’s teaching, we cannot serve both God and mammon. In our quest for holiness, all dross must be purified. We need to be cleansed regularly from sin. We have to let the Spirit be like the heavy dew settling on the frosty ground. Bit by bit the dew saturates the ground until the frost begins to melt. Although at first it seems improbable, the soft dew will eventually melt the hard frost.
As Christians we are called to cleanse our lives in the purity of Christ’s teaching. This means we keep our bodies pure as they are the temples of the Holy Spirit. For the latter this means that we do not abuse our bodies sexually or through drugs or by over indulging in eating and drinking, or by being slovenly and lazy. The basis for any Christian relationship is honesty. I know some people say that if one is too honest, then that can hurt others and is therefore more preferable it is to tell a white lie. I cannot accept this. The Pauline tradition tells us very clearly we must speak the truth in love, and in Christ as he did. (Eph.4:15 & 1Tim.2:7) Anything other than the truth is a deception, and any kind of deception immediately forms a barrier. From some of my own experiences when very painful things have had to be said, although the person with whom you are conversing has been upset, most visibly at times, I’ve always known that person in the end to acknowledge truth is kinder than any hedging. The other side of all this is that the person having to speak the truth experiences pain too because she/he knows the immediate suffering of the other. The most important thing is to remember that God is in that situation, and if we are sensitive enough to Him, He will be the Speaker. Another factor to be considered is that quite often people are more resilient than for what we give them credit. Sometimes too people have some kind of premonition of the truth. This is especially true in regards to breaking the news of the death of a loved one. We are also called to live honest lives where we work: in offices, behind check-outs or computers, retail business etc. That means working to the best of our ability and using the work hours for the company’s work and not for our own. There seems to be the temptation to think that the most important criterion is to sign on each day, and how we spend that day is not of any great consequence. Or there is the attitude that the company’s resources are there for our too, and therefore there is nothing wrong about helping ourselves to stationery, pens, clips and so on. In a sense this would be a bit like picking up the clean cutlery left on a host’s table after having been invited to dinner and going home with it. I don’t think anyone would do this, and would be deeply insulted at the suggestion of such a thing, but why the two standards?
Holy Monday therefore demands us to examine our lives to see whether they glow with Christ’s purity and honesty, and to examine whether we live by Christ’s commandments or our own watered down version of them. After confronting ourselves through Christ’s eyes, the comforting factor of this day is that we can be cleansed of all that is not pure and honest within us.
On this Holy Monday let me dig deep to discover the impurities within me dear Lord through the cleansing power of Your Spirit. Having acknowledged them, let my actions and thoughts from now onwards be such that they can withstand Your penetrating Light. Amen.
Now has the Son of Man been glorified.
Full readings: Isaiah 49. 1-6; Psalm 7.1-6, 15-7; St. John 13. 21-33, 36-8. Our Lord spoke these words after stating that one His disciples would betray Him, and it would be he to whom He gave the morsel of bread. Judas went out into the night after receiving the bread. As to-morrow’s Gospel reading is that passage from Matthew when Judas arranged such betrayal, I shall leave further discussion for the morrow. To-day I shall concentrate on the traditional reflection for Holy Tuesday, the day of questions. As Jesus continued to teach in the temple, He was approached by the chief priests and scribes about His authority to teach. Rather than give a direct answer He counter questions them about the baptism of John. They are trapped, which no doubt infuriated them even more, especially after listening to the parable of the wicked tenants. Then the Pharisees tried to ensnare Jesus through His disciples by asking them, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” Jesus aware of their malicious intent answered for them and for us too that we must pay our taxes. So on this day of questions Our Lord made it quite clear that His authority comes from God, but at the same time He recognized a Princely authority in this world, and that His disciples and we live under that authority in this world. In others words Christians live in a political State, as well as the heavenly realm. He thus acknowledged that we are citizens of two worlds, and in both the Authority must be obeyed. Therefore as Christians we have to respect the authority of the State in which we live, and if we object to any of its laws, it must be done through the right channels. Being a Christian does not give us the right to ignore laws of our country, but it does give us the right to challenge them and work towards their change or alteration if they are unchristian through the proper process. By what authority did He challenge them? Christ challenges them by that Higher authority which is His from His Father. His authority is able to penetrate the souls of all because it is divine, and so it unveils the narrowness, the rigidity, and above all the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Scribes. In their ostentation of piety they had forgotten what humility and the kingdom of heaven were all about; in their insistence of tithing on the least things, they had forgotten the substance of the law, judgment, mercy and faith; and in insisting on dotting every “i” of the law, they had forgotten the heart and purpose of their Law. Our Lord broke more than convention and rules when He openly condemned how these religious authorities have misinterpreted the whole concept of the religious Law by insisting on outward observances but ignoring the spirit and mercy of it. Furthermore he advocated to those listening to His teaching not to follow the hypocrisy of their religious leaders.
This Holy Tuesday God’s authority must confront us. We have to ask ourselves by whose authority do I live? It is not mine, certainly not the State’s, but God’s as the Giver of all life. However sometimes we forget that God is the supreme authority, and allow ourselves to be captivated by seducing demonic powers such as drugs or even Satan himself. If we allow this to happen for too long then we shall end up like the Pharisees having a hollow sound to our lives.
Even Christians who try to live under God’s authority must allow that authority to penetrate their very being on Holy Tuesday to determine whether their life is pharisaic at all. It is all so easy to be seen praying in church, but are we really praying? It is all so easy to be caught up with the angelic singing of the choir and yet not to be thinking of God at all or why we are in a church or chapel. It is all so easy to set an hour aside for prayer and then spend most of it day dreaming. It is all so easy to visit someone in hospital and think this is my good deed for the day. And so one could go on. What it means that it is almost too easy for us to be like the pharisees, “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Mt.23.25). So what Christ said about the Pharisees and Scribes, He could also say about us. If we take Holy Week seriously, we must heed our Lord’s warning and authority that we must not be outwardly what we are not inwardly. If we learn to be humble and not seek any kind of exaltation then we shall not fall into the Pharisees’ trap.
On this Holy Tuesday let me submit myself to Your authority in all that I do, knowing that if I submit completely I shall not live like the Pharisees by seeking recognition, but in humility, silently rejoicing that I am able to do Your will and be Your instrument in this world. Amen.
Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief
And said unto them, `What will you give
me, and I will deliver Him unto you?'
And they covenanted with him for
thirty pieces of silver.
And from that time he sought opportunity
to betray Him.
Matthew, Ch. 26:14-6.
Full readings: Isaiah 50. 4-9; Psalm 69. 8-10. 21-2, 31-4; St. Matthew 24.14-25.
What makes a friend betray a friend as friendship implies trust? The underlining reason is that we love ourselves more than our friend, which in fact means we use a person under the pretence of a friend for what for we can gain. Judas knew that Christ had incensed the religious authorities since His return to Jerusalem with His outspokenness in exposing their hypocrisies, and more than ever they wanted His arrest. The situation was such that Judas realized he could gain from it, irrespective of what consequences that might mean for Jesus. He thought simply of himself when he went along to the chief priests to see what he could get from it all. What Judas did is what so many of us do. By merely concentrating on self, and not others, we never think through what are the consequences of our actions for us and for others. Perhaps if Judas had stopped for a moment to rethink the whole situation through he may have seen that his betrayal would lead to Christ’s death. He then may have not gone to the chief priests. But man without grace is such an ego-centric being! Judas’ selfishness and greed is juxtaposed in the gospel with the selflessness and loving devotion of Mary who as custom was for the traveller on entering a house, washed Jesus’ feet. But instead of water she used an expensive ointment and lavished it upon her Master’s feet, and then dried them caringly and tenderly with her hair. She showed Judas and to the whole world what true friendship is, “to give and not to count the cost ... to labour and not to ask for any reward”. St. John tells us that Judas quibbled over this lavish gesture of Mary, intimating that his love of money and his greed had become such heinous sins that they were eating into his soul. When these sins go unrepented, they become cancerous and if untreated will kill the soul as illustrated in Judas. Andrewes in his 1593 Lenten sermon contrasted the difference of living lovingly for Christ or lovingly to self as he compared Mary and Judas:
for she did not drop but pour; not a dram or two, but a whole pound; not reserving any, but breaking box and all; and that not now alone, but three several times, one after another.This she did; and, as it may seem, the coherence fell out not amiss. This outward ointment and sweet odour she bestowed on Christ for the oil of gladness, or the spiritual anointing (as St. John) and the comfortable savour of His knowledge (as St. Paul calls it), He bestowed on her.
This, as it was well done, so was it well taken of Christ; and so should have been of all present but for Judas, says St. John. Who, liking better odorem lucri ex re qualibet than any scent in the apothecary’s shop, seeing that spent on Christ’s head that he wished should come into his own purse, repined at it.
This Holy Wednesday we have before us two options: the selfless loving and caring of Mary towards her dear Master and Lord, and the selfishness and greed of Judas who used Jesus for his own ends. Friendship as I said implies trust, and when we make a person a friend it means we love that person, despite what. From that moment we always try to think and anticipate their needs before ours; we desire the best for them. Yet how often have we been a Judas rather than a Mary and let a friend down? How often have we simply used another person, hoping that we might gain something from it? Sometimes we might even do this unconsciously. We do have to keep examining our motives so that we are not exploiting another human being. Ideally in a Christian community, the corporate body of Christ to which all the baptized belong, we share and gladly share our gifts, talents and personalities with our brothers and sisters. In this kind of community the self is fused with the core so that in the sharing of life the self is always part of the whole; it can never be separated from it because the influences, beliefs, and personalities of others are absorbed by one and mingle with one’s own. With such Christian sharing one forgets or ignores what was originally his or hers, if ever that were the case!
Our Lord commended what Mary did, and He must have agonized over Judas’ deed, especially in the light of His teaching to His disciples that “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn.15.13). Even after betraying our Lord, Judas committed a greater wrong in being unrepentant of his deed, and died in a state of hell, that is, without Love. He was not there to greet the Risen Lord on Easter morn, but Mary was? Will we?
Let me be like Mary and believe in You as my Friend as well as my Lord and Saviour. Teach me to live that I do not betray You by my actions and words, and especially not by selfish acts of greed and exploitation. Grant me the grace to be a true friend to all I meet in life. Amen.