Palm Sunday Year A
Theme of the week: In our faith journey, we are called to be imitators of Christ. Where am I on my journey of faith?
Our faith life is a journey, a journey to become a more perfect imitation of our Lord Jesus every day. As we enter into the most holy period in the Church calendar, let us ask ourselves: Where is my faith life on this journey?
The story of the Passion of our Lord is read on two occasions in the year, once on this weekend (Palm Sunday), and again in a few days’ time on Good Friday. During the Passion, we hear of Jesus being put on trial at the Sanhedrin (verse 1:57-68). However, as we read the story, we will realise that it was not just Jesus that was on trial. Many of the characters in the Passion story were also on trial. In fact, my brothers and sisters, so are you and I. As we draw parallels between our faith life and those of the characters in the story; as we place ourselves in the story, we will realise: I too am on trial. Let us reflect on the story of each of the following characters, place our lives in theirs and as we place ourselves in the story.
Judas betray Jesus for money (verse 1:15, 1:48-50). In betraying Jesus, he also betrayed the teachings of the Lord. Later, after witnessing the consequences of his actions, Judas regretted and repented (verse 2:3-4). However, in spite of having repented he could not comprehend the mercy of the Lord. Even though God forgave him, Judas could not forgive himself and committed suicide (verse 2:5). Judas failed to see the mercy of God. Judas’ suicide is the most tragic part of his story.
In his enthusiasm, Peter was willing to die with Jesus if that was asked of him (verse 1:33-34). However, when the test came, Peter could not find the courage to stood by the Lord. Instead, for three times, he denied knowing Jesus (verse 1:69-74). Like Judas, Peter betrayed the teachings of Jesus when he denied Jesus. As the cock crowed, Peter realised he failings. Unlike many who sin, Peter reflected on his action and was honest with himself. He became so remorseful that he wept bitterly (verse 1:75). Unlike Judas, Peter accepted the mercy of God and went on to become a great leader of the early Church. Peter eventually died a martyr.
Peter, James and John
Before his arrest, Jesus brought the disciples Peter, James and John to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prayed. Three times, the Lord asked the disciples to stay awake in the time of trial (Lk 22:40), three times they fell asleep. The disciples were tired, and their earthly bodies let them down. Nevertheless, Jesus forgave them and protected them from harm through the whole ordeal. Each of these went on to become great Apostles, evangelising many through their words and their writings.
Caiaphas the High Priest
Caiaphas felt his position threatened by Jesus. He was unsecured. Publicly, Caiaphas was a man of God. Privately, he was seduced by the fame, status and power that his position brought him. He engineered the whole event that led to Jesus’ crucifixion and death. At the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas looked for false testimonies against Jesus (verse 1:59), interrogated Jesus (verse 1:62) and declared Jesus blasphemous (verse 1:65), a crime punishable by death. Later, outside Pilate’s courtyard, when Pilate wanted to release Jesus, Caiaphas persuaded the crowd to demand for Jesus’ crucifixion instead. Blinded by fame, status and power, Caiaphas never truly reflected on his actions and remained unrepentant.
Pilate was someone that was given great power. He alone could decide the fate of anyone brought before him. Such power ought to be exercised with great responsibility. Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent and that it was out of jealousy that the Chief Priest handed Jesus over to him (verse 2:18). He tried to secure Jesus’ release by offering the crowd what he thought was a no-brainer of a choice – release a notorious prisoner or Jesus the Messiah (verse 2:16-17). When the crowd demanded the crucifixion of Jesus instead, Pilate became afraid. He was not able to stand up for what is right. Pilate succumbed to the pressure and his fear and handed Jesus over to be crucified (verse 2:24).
The two thieves
The Gospel of Luke describes the reactions of the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus. Unlike Jesus, both these thieves did commit the crimes they were accused of and received their just publishment. On the cross, one was unrepentant and was taunting Jesus to the end. The other was remorseful and asked Jesus forgiveness. (Lk 23:39-43) In response, Jesus forgave his sins and uttered these words to the Good Thief, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).
Nicodemus was a follower of Jesus but kept it secret for fear the negative publicity his discipleship might bring. Nicodemus want to learn from Jesus but dare not do so publicly. Nicodemus wait till the night before coming to Jesus to seek the Lord’s teachings (Jn 3:1-21). After Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathea collected Jesus’ body from Pilate. Nicodemus came and helped Joseph perform the burial of Jesus. All through the Gospel of John, Nicodemus kept his faith a fairly low-key affair and had never publicly bear witness to Jesus.
Finally, Jesus himself was under trial. At the Garden of Gethsemane, showing his human weakness, Jesus asked God to relief him of the impending suffering. However, being ever obedient to His Father, Christ’s prayer has an important caveat, that God’s will should ultimately prevail. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (verse 1:39) At the cross, Jesus forgave the Good Thief (Lk 23:43); prayed for his perpetrators and even made excuse for their sins: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Jesus was submissive to God the Father right till the final moment” “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).
The spirituality of Jesus’ submission to God the Father is elaborated further in the First and Second Reading. The First Reading is taken from the third Servant Song. We do not know who this Servant was but is reminded of his obedience to God. The Servant accepted God’s will without compliant, even though it brought him great sufferings: “I was not rebellious, I did not turn backwards. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (verse 5-6) The Servant’s sufferings pre-figure Jesus’ sufferings at the Passion.
The Second Reading shows us the great humility of Christ: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” Imagine, the Almighty God allowing himself to be taken as a slave! Such is the love God has for us; such is Christ’s obedience to his Father; and such is the humility we should all strive to imitate.
What about me? Where am I on my faith journey? How well do I imitate Jesus? Were there times in my life that I am Judas, Peter, James, John, Caiaphas, Pilate, the two thieves or Nicodemus? I invite you to read these stories again and draw parallels with our own lives. Were there times where I, faced with sufferings, willingly picked up my cross that God has prepared for me? Were there times where I forgive others and show them mercy just as Jesus showed Peter and the Good Thief? Were there times where I was unforgiving, judgemental, blinded by my secular pursuits, and failed to see my own sins? Let us reflect these over the Holy Week. Amen.