Passion Sunday or popularly known as the Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. During Holy Week, the Church celebrates the mysteries of salvation accomplished by Christ in the last days of his life on earth, beginning with his messianic entrance into Jerusalem and followed by his suffering and death on the cross.
Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem to the sound of great rejoicing and triumphal acclamation. Crowds greet him with palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna,” the battle cry of nationalistic Zealots, which means”save us, we pray” from the dominion and oppression of the Roman empire. Five days after, however, Jesus was crucified on the cross.
At the beginning of his last week, Jesus was greeted in Jerusalem as a heroic savior, someone to free the Jews from Roman authority. By the end of the week, Jesus was no longer seen as a hero. He was even betrayed by Judas, the treasurer of the apostles, for thirty shekels of silver which is the monetary worth of a slave. Denied thrice by Peter, whom he has chosen to be the head of the apostles. Abandoned by the other apostles except John. Demanded to be crucified by the same people who shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” [Mt. 21:9]. Lastly, “rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes,” who handed him to the Gentiles to be mocked, scourged and crucified (see Lk 24:26-27. 44-45; Mk 8:31; Mt 20:19.) as he prophesied earlier.
Jesus’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: “This Jesus [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Act 2:23). This biblical language does not mean that those who handed him over were passive players in a scenario written in advance by God (cf. Acts 3:13, CCC 599).
For the sake of accomplishing his plan of salvation, God permitted the acts that flowed from their blindness (cf. Mt 26:54; Jn 18:36; 19:11; Acts 3:17-18). The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through putting to death of “the righteous one, my Servant” as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin (Is 53:11; cf. 53:12; Jn 8:34-36; Acts 3:14). Hence, Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.
The story of the passion of Christ is the story of God’s faithfulness to His people and their salvation and man’s unfaithfulness, sinfulness and wickedness to God and to one another. God remains faithful and true to his promise of salvation in Christ despite of our unfaithfulness, sinfulness, and wickedness. Instead of condemning us to death and hell he continues to call us to repentance, conversion, reconciliation and offering for “Yahweh is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, …forgiving wickedness, crime and sin” (Ex 34:6-7). Our Lord does not seek the sinner’s death but his conversion, and his life (cf. Ezekiel 33:11).
Faithful to the saving mission he received from God the Father, Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” [Phil. 2:8] In His Divine incarnation, He humbled Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. Jesus did not empty Himself of His Divinity but He voluntarily gave up the Divine glory to which He was entitled, a glory that would be restored at His exaltation. [Jn. 17:5; Mt. 17:1-8] Having humbled Himself, even unto death, God exalted Jesus, giving Him the Name that is above every name. [Phil. 2:9; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 1:4; 1 Pet. 3:22] That at the Name of Jesus, in an act of religious adoration, every knee should bend, in Heaven and on earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Phil. 2:10-11; 1 Cor. 12:3; Rom. 10:9; Col. 2:6]
What, then, should be our response to God’s faithful and saving love for us? Our response should be:
First, we must have faith in Jesus Christ and to the One who sent him for us and for our salvation. As John says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3). Besides, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6).
Second, we must be faithful to the ever faithful God. Let us be truly sorry and turn away from sins and, be reconciled with God and with one another and be faithful to Jesus and his Gospel. I do not know if you still remember that on the first day of Lent, that is, Ash Wednesday, the priest ,while putting ashes on our foreheads, said to us: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
What does faithfulness to God mean? What are the dimension of this faithfulness?
The first dimension is called search. To seek God and His saving will or plan for us and for the world. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.
The second dimension of faithfulness is called reception, acceptance. Let it be done, I am ready, I accept: this is the crucial moment of faithfulness, the moment in which man perceives that he will never completely understand the “how”; that there are in God’s plan more areas of mystery than of clarity; that, however he may try, he will never succeed in understanding it completely. It is then that man accepts the mystery, gives it a place in his heart, just as “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. Lk 3:15). It is the moment when man abandons himself to the mystery, not with the resignation of one who capitulates before an enigma or an absurdity, but rather with the availability of one who opens up to be inhabited by something – by Someone! – greater than his own heart. This acceptance takes place, in short, through faith, which is the adherence of the whole being to the mystery that is revealed.
The third dimension of faithfulness is consistency, To live in accordance with what-one believes. To adapt one’s own life to the object of one’s adherence. To accept misunderstandings, persecutions, rather than a break between what one practices and what one believes: this is consistency. Here is, perhaps, the deepest core of faithfulness.
But all faithfulness must pass the most exacting test: that of duration. Therefore the fourth dimension of faithfulness is constancy. It is easy to be consistent for a day or two. It is difficult and important to be consistent for one’s whole life. It is easy to be consistent in the hour of enthusiasm, it is difficult to be so in the hour of tribulation. And only a consistency that lasts through out the whole of life, can be called faithfulness. Mary’s “fiat” in the Annunciation finds its fullness in the silent “fiat’, that she repeats at the foot of the Cross. To be faithful means not betraying in the darkness what one has accepted in public.
Allow me to share a simple story of faithfulness.
Mark Hatfield tells of touring Calcutta with Mother Teresa and visiting the so-called “House of Dying,” where sick children are cared for in their last days, and the dispensary, where the poor line up by the hundreds to receive medical attention. Watching Mother Teresa minister to these people, feeding and nursing those left by others to die, Hatfield was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the suffering she and her co-workers face daily. “How can you bear the load without being crushed by it?” he asked. Mother Teresa replied, “My dear Senator, I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful.”
God holds us, His children, to the highest standards of holiness and faithfulness (Mt 5:20). Yet God pours out unending supplies of grace so that we can repent and not only meet His standards, but flourish and grow in holiness (Eph 1:3).
Be faithful to God. Be faithful to his commandments. Be faithful to your vocation. Be faithful to your work, duties and responsibilities. Be faithful to your baptismal promises. Be faithful to your marital vows and promises. Be faithful to the deepest longing of your heart.