Palm Sunday, Year B

Let us also go, that we may die with him (Jn. 11:16)

There will be coverage of the Holy Week by the newspaper, television and radio, from the point of view, say, of tourism, economics or even gastronomy. The news media will report on the usual religious rituals and popular practices. There will be clips, at least, of certain liturgical celebrations deemed to capture the more solemn and more important moments.

But what appear to captivate the news media are the strange things that pick human curiosity. An example of these is the matter of Filipino or Colombian or Brazilian penitents who year after year are reported to wound themselves at the back with pieces of broken glasses, then go about the town, with veiled faces, barefooted and half-naked, either simply flagellating themselves or carrying a cross to which they are later really nailed. Something like this especially captivate children, not so much the solemn celebration inside the church of Palm Sunday nor the Good Friday service, no matter how dramatic the singing or reading may be of the passion, nor the long Holy Saturday Easter Vigil.

Much less are they an attraction--not to the children or to adults or to the mass media--the efforts of not a few Christians to go with Jesus to his death, even if some of these efforts may lead one to do strange things, such as those done by the disciples. Following Jesus to his death, the disciples borrowed a colt on which no one had ever sat (perhaps not yet broken and therefore hard to control), put their cloaks over it, and then let Jesus sit on it as he entered Jerusalem as successor to king David. Remembering probably the utterance of Prophet Zechariah, the disciples, along with others who joined them, did and said everything without resistance and without even asking a question. But wasn’t it a matter of derision and mockery that a pretender to the throne of David would enter the capital not as a triumphant king, riding on a war horse, receiving a red-carpet welcome, accompanied by draftee soldiers on horseback or in chariots running ahead of him? In fact, those who later tortured Jesus, clothed him in purple, placed on him a crown of thorns, saluted him with, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him and kneeling before him in homage. And did they not betray themselves as pathetic gullible folks, those who hailed Jesus as a Davidic king?

Many do not find desirable or acceptable the cowardly foolishness that, in the view of most, is entailed by someone not rebelling and turning his back at the face of violent injustice, by someone giving his back to those who are beating him and his cheeks to those who are plucking his beard, by someone not shielding his face from buffets and spitting and setting it rather like a flint. The enmities and ill-feelings we Christians nurture too, the wars we wage, and the destruction we seek for those who oppose us or question our authority:--all this makes evident that we are not really that attracted to the example of the one who was not conquered by evil but conquered evil with good, and thus proved effectively that charity, as St. Leo the Great also argued, should know no limit, since God is love and God cannot be confined. How long will I go on not understanding the cult of the body given up and the blood shed for all, the worship of the Savior who saved others by not saving himself?

Disregarded too are the self-emptying and the taking of the form of a slave, the preference for the clothes of ordinary folks over the long robes of the Pharisees and the fine clothing of those living in palaces. And what a way to be neurotic or psychotic, in the opinion of many an enlightened person, to fantasize and daydream that an event of little moment is considered a preparation for death!

And these ways of dying to oneself by putting on the new self and taking off the old self with its self-seeking practices do not call much attention, anymore than she calls attention, the person who, like Sister Barbe Angiboust, gives others the chance to laugh and mock her, because she dies to herself and to her likes and dislikes as she keeps serving the most difficult of the poor, the most ungrateful, the most obscene, the most foul-mouthed. Nor do they captivate, those who set aside worldly wisdom and believe firmly with St. Vincent that it is providence that guarantees their future, not money that unfortunately is deemed, in the view of not a few, capable of buying everything, and live their lives in accordance with such New Testament paradoxical statements as: “one who loses his or her life will save it”; “the poor are rich, and the weak are strong”; “those in charge are the servants”; “where sin abounds grace abounds all the more”; and, “giving is better than receiving.” [1]

But in the end it matters very little really that the efforts to go and die with Jesus do not call attention or are not accorded newspaper, television or radio coverage. For, as St. Vincent advised, anyone would live in Jesus Christ by the death of Jesus Christ, anyone who would die in Jesus Christ by the life of Jesus Christ, such one ought also to have his or her life as hidden in Jesus Christ as it is full of Jesus Christ. And if this Holy Week I manage, by the grace of God, to go and die with Jesus Christ, should there be a reason for me not to be able, by the same grace of God, to go and die with Jesus Christ the week of Easter and the other weeks of the year?