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Palm / Passion Sunday, Year A

What Will You Do With Jesus?

Readings: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

Thomas Berry, a Passionist priest, writes, “The most appropriate image of Christ is Mother Earth crucified.” That image is reflected so powerfully in the events of this Sunday which combines both palms and passion. Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. He is hailed by the crowds as a king. He is greeted with shouts of Hosanna! “If they were silenced,” Jesus reflects, “even the very stones in the street would start to shout.”

Then in the Gospel as Jesus draws his last breath and dies, darkness covers the earth. The whole of creation is touched by the selfless act of the Son of God. Yet no wonder, for what was done to Jesus was done to the whole of creation.

And yet how easy it is for us to dismiss it. And so today we are challenged to reflect on what our reaction would have been had we been amongst the crowd that day. There were as many reactions to Jesus’ plight as there were people in the story. Perhaps we see amongst their reactions what we might have done.

Would we have reacted like the disciples? The disciples, his closest friends, those who listened day after day to Jesus’ teachings, could not stay awake with him. They could not watch and pray even for one hour. And when it came time to make a decision to follow him they ran away in fear. They were unable to face the consequences, the danger that knowing Jesus put them into. Even Peter, his words still ringing out loud and clear, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” Under the strain he too runs away. All the good intentions in the world are not enough. When life gets difficult do we blame God and run away?

Judas betrayed him for what he could get. And yet somehow I wonder if he really did want to betray him. There is the possibility that he thought somehow he might be able to save Jesus. Did he want to give Jesus the opportunity to fight back, to become the kind of Messiah that he had been expecting? He does not want to betray him. But he will. He will take what he can get. Is that our approach to the faith? Are we simply in it to get what we can? Is our job or wealth more important to us than those we love? Do we pay more attention to work than to family? Are we faithful to God’s call despite personal sacrifices? What meaning do Christ’s death and resurrection have in our lives?

The crowds jeered at Jesus. The same people who had shouted hosanna just a few short days before turned on him. “Crucify him!” they shouted, the mob mentality taking over. Do our lackadaisical attitudes, our inability to stand up against the crowd, our opting in to the ways of the world, crucify Jesus?

And then there is Pilate. His is surely the most subtle way to react. He is the one person who has the power to release Jesus. He knows that this is an innocent man standing before him. He even has his wife’s dream to corroborate it. “Have nothing to do with that innocent man,” she pleads. “I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” And yet he turns his back on Jesus. He releases a known criminal to the crowds. Not that he takes responsibility for his actions. Instead he calls for a bowl of water. He washes his hands. “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”

We humans are very good at doing that. We wash our hands of it. As if that is going to change anything! Throughout history we have washed our hands of event after event. Our Canadian history with our Aboriginal peoples is a good example. This past Lent several of us have undertaken a course to learn more about the history of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters in order to better understand their current situation. We spent time learning about their history and particularly about the history of the Residential School system. But it was hearing the voices of people tell of the abuse that they underwent and of the impact on their lives that had the greatest impact on us as a group. It was heart wrenching to say the least. We can continue to say that it has nothing to do with us and wash our hands of it as we have for two hundred years. Or we can take responsibility for the past mistakes of both our Church and our government and begin to make amends.

Thank God that God has not simply washed God’s hands of us. God could have looked at humankind and given up. But that is not God’s way. It is not what God did. Instead, God acted. God sent salvation into the world. It was not about making life easy for us. It was not about manipulating us into making a decision to follow God. It was to enable us to reach out to others, to lead people back to God, to act.

It is easy for us as Easter people to say what our reaction to Jesus’ plight would have been. And yet so often our actions show differently. Daily we crucify him.

On Ash Wednesday we began a journey that has led us through wilderness times. The journey ends at the foot of the cross where we await the joyful resurrection to new life. The call of the cross is a call to share in God’s unconditional mercy and goodness. It is a reminder that God’s power is able to transform even the most terrible suffering. It is a reminder that God is with us. In our encounter with the crucified God may we learn that the sharing of suffering is the beginning of its transformation to wholeness and joy. Amen.
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