30 March 2012

'Your king is coming . . .' Sunday Reflections, Palm Sunday Year B

From The Gospel of John (2003). Directed by Philip Saville. Jesus played by Henry Ian Cusick; narrator, Christopher Plummer.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

At the Procession of Palms either of these gospels may be used: Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16.

Gospel for Procession of Palms Mark 11:1-10 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

When they were approaching Jerusalem, in sight of Bethphage and Bethany, close by the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, 'Go off to the village facing you, and as soon as you enter it you will find a tethered colt that no one has yet ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, "What are you doing?" say, "The Master needs it and will send it back here directly." They went off and found a colt tethered near a door in the open street. As they untied it, some men standing there said, 'What are you doing, untying that colt?' They gave the answer Jesus, had told them, and, the men let them go. Then they took the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on its back, and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, others greenery which they had cut in the fields. And those who went in front and those who followed were all shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heavens!'

John 12:12-16 
The next day the crowds who had come up for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took branches of palm and went out to receive him, shouting: 'Hosanna! Blessings on the King of Israel, who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus found a young donkey and mounted it -- as scripture says: Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, mounted on the colt of a donkey. At the time his disciples did not understand this, but later, after Jesus had been glorified, they remembered that this had been written about him and that this was in fact how they had received him.

An Soiscéal Marcas 11:1-10 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Nuair a bhí siad ag teacht i ngar do Iarúsailéim, agus iad chomh fada le Béatfaigé agus Béatáine i dtreo Chnoc na nOlóg, chuir sé beirt dá dheisceabail uaidh, agus  dúirt sé leo: “Téigí isteach sa bhaile atá os bhur gcomhair agus láithreach ag dul isteach ann daoibh, gheobhaidh sibh searrach ceangailte nach raibh duine ar bith riamh ar a mhuin. Scaoiligí é agus tugaigí libh é. Agus má deir aon duine libh: ‘Cad atá sibh a dhéanamh?’ abraigí: ‘Tá gá ag an Tiarna leis. Ach cuirfidh sé ar ais anseo gan mhoill é.’” D’imigh siad leo agus fuair an searrach ceangailte ag doras, lasmuigh ar an tsráid agus scaoil siad é. Agus dúirt cuid dá raibh ina seasamh ansiúd leo: “Cad ab áil libh ag scaoileadh an tsearraigh?” D’fhreagair siad faoi mar a dúirt Íosa leo, agus scaoil siad leo. Agus thug siad leo an searrach go dtí Íosa agus chuir siad a mbrait anuas air agus chuaigh sé ina shuí air. Leath a lán daoine a mbrait ar an mbóthar, a thuilleadh craobhacha a bhain siad sna goirt; agus na daoine a bhí roimhe amach, agus iad siúd a bhí á leanuint, bhí na gártha acu á gcur suas:
Is beannaithe an té atá ag teacht in ainm an Tiarna!
Is beannaithe ag teacht í, Ríocht ár nAthar, Dáiví!
Hósana sna harda!”

Eoin 12:12-16 

Lá arna mhárach, an slua mór a tháinig don fhéile, nuair a chuala siad go raibh Íosa ag teacht go Iarúsailéim, thóg siad craobhacha pailme agus amach leo ina choinne, agus na gártha á gcur suas acu: “Hósana! Is beannaithe an té atá ag teacht in ainm an Tiarna, sea, rí Iosrael.” Agus fuair Íosa asal óg agus shuigh air mar atá scríofa: 15“Na bíodh eagla ort, a iníon Shíón; féach, tá do rí ag teacht agus é ina shuí ar shearrach asail.” Nior thuig a dheisceabail na nithe ar dtús ach nuair a glóiríodh Íosa, ansin is ea a chuimhnigh siad air go raibh na nithe seo scríofa agus go ndearna siad na nithe sin leis.


There’s an expression in Irish, An té atá thuas óltar deoch air; an té atá thíos buailtear cos air (‘The one who succeeds is toasted; the one who fails is kicked’). On Palm Sunday Jesus was joyfully welcomed with people shouting ‘Hosanna!’ Five days later the mob, that surely included at least some who had cried out ‘Hosanna!’ was shouting ‘Crucify him!’

The last century has seen ‘The Thousand Year Reich’ end in ruins after only twelve years, the overthrowing of many dictators, powerful politicians ending up in jail or on the gallows, statues that some of them had built in their own honour toppled from their pedestals.

Charles Dickens, born 200 years ago, in A Christmas Carol describes the reaction of a young woman when her husband comes home with news of the debt they owed.

He sat down to the dinner that had been hoarding for him by the fire; and when she asked him faintly what news (which was not until after a long silence), he appeared embarrassed how to answer.
“Is it good,” she said, “or bad?” – to help him.
“Bad”, he answered.
“We are quite ruined?”
“No. There is hope yet, Caroline.”
“If  he relents,” she said, amazed, “there is! Nothing is past hope, if such a miracle has happened.”
“He is past relenting,” said her husband. “He is dead.”
She was a mild and patient creature if her face spoke truth; but she was thankful in her soul to hear it, and she said so, with clasped hands. She prayed forgiveness the next moment, and was sorry; but the first was the emotion of her heart’.

This took place after Scrooge, in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come had asked the Ghost, who had been showing him scenes around the death of someone unloved whom Scrooge had not yet recognized as himself, If there is any one person in the town, who feels emotion caused by this man’s death, show that person to me, Spirit, I beseech you!

The instinctive emotion was relief, as it always is, at least for a while, when a tyrant is overthrown. I remember my own feelings of relief and joy when dictator Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippine was overthrown in February 1986.

The story of the conversion of Scrooge is set at Christmastime but what underlies it is what we commemorate and celebrate during the coming week, the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, God who became Man. Jesus cold see clearly through the adulation offered him on Palm Sunday. We’ve no reason to believe that the welcome the people gave him was insincere or that Jesus didn’t accept it. But, for some at least, the welcome they gave Jesus was surely shallow. The parable of the seeds was reflected in the responses showed during the coming week by those who welcomed him.

Overthrown or deceased tyrants are not usually remembered for being loving. Some children are unfortunate enough to have a parent who is tyrannical. Some have been affected for life by a teacher who has terrorized his students. Dickens’s novels provide us with many such characters, reflective of people in real life. They are full of children who have been abused in different ways. In recent years we have become all too familiar with a reality that many of us could never have imagined – the abuse of children by priests and religious. There is a growing awareness of the much wider reality of abuse of children in families.

But the death of Jesus led initially to great sorrow and remorse, a loss of hope, until the reality of his Resurrection became apparent to his closest followers. Then they began to see him and understand his mission in a new way. Then they began to see how he had always been on the side of the outsider – the blind, the lame, the deaf, the leper, the child. Even the animal he chose to ride on into Jerusalem is described by GK Chesterton in the poem below as The devil’s walking parody / On all four-footed things. But the humble donkey also had his hour.

When Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez was appointed Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador, on 23 February 1977 the governing authorities welcomed this. They gave him a sort of Palm Sunday welcome as someone they perceived to be pious and compliant. He was indeed a deeply pious person, in the full sense of one devoted to the will of God the Father, and this was the foundation on which the dramatic last years of his life were based. On 24 March 1980 agents of the state shot Archbishop Romero dead while he was celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel (photo below). His 'Holy Week' had lasted just over three years.

In his final homily, a few minutes before he was murdered, Archbishop Romero said, May this Body immolated and this blood sacrificed for Mankind nourish us also, that we may give our body and blood over to suffering and pain, like Christ – not for Self, but to give harvests of peace and justice to our people.

A few days earlier Archbishop Romero had said to a journalist, I need to say that as a Christian I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the people of El Salvador . . . If they manage to carry out their threats, as of now, I offer my blood for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. If God accepts the sacrifice of my life, then may my blood be the seed of liberty and the sign that hope will soon become a reality. May my death, if it is accepted by God, be for the liberation of my people, as a witness of hope in what is to come. You can tell them that if they succeed in killing me, I pardon and bless those who do it. A bishop may die, but the Church of God, which is in the people, will never die.

In 1994 Blessed John Paul II wrote in Tertio Adveniente: At the end of the second millennium, the Church has once again become a Church of martyrs . . . It is a testimony that must not be forgotten. Among the Catholic martyrs of the new millennium are my close friend and Columban colleague Fr Rufus Halley, shot dead on 28 August 2001 having spent 20 years trying to be a bridge between Christians and Muslims in Mindanao, Fr Ragheed Aziz Ganni, shot dead in Iraq after celebrating Mass on Pentecost Sunday 2007 and Pakistani politician Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, murdered just after visiting his mother on 2 March last year.

Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter bring hope into our lives. We can see our often shallow enthusiasm for Jesus echoed in the crowds greeting him on Palm Sunday. We can see our frequent betrayals of him in small matters and big as we listen to the Passion, this year that of St Mark, on Palm Sunday and again to St John’s version on Good Friday. But the reality that Jesus, God who became Man, the Son of God the Father, took on all of this so that we might have life to the full. Óscar Romero, Rufus Halley, Ragheed Ganni and Shahbaz Bhatti all walked with Jesus on Palm Sunday, walked with him to Calvary on Good Friday and now share in the joy of his Resurrection, bringing hope to the rest of us, a hope rooted in their faith in Jesus the Risen Lord.


G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

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