Palm Sunday Year B
Accept my cross in obedience. For the Road to Calvary is the road to salvation, for me and for others God put in my path.
What is God’s calling me to? Have I answered His call?
The First Reading this week is taken from Isaiah’s Third Servant Song. We do not know who this Servant was. We do know he was called to be a teacher of God’s word, for he said, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” (verse 4)
My brothers and sisters, have we asked ourselves: What is my calling? Perhaps God is calling me to carry out one or more of the seven corporal works of mercy:
- To feed the hungry
- To give water to the thirsty
- To clothe the naked
- To shelter the homeless
- To visit the sick
- To ransom the captive
- To bury the dead
Or perhaps, one or more of the seven spiritual works of mercy:
- To instruct the ignorant
- To counsel the doubtful
- To admonish the sinners
- To bear patiently those who wrong us
- To forgive offenses
- To comfort the afflicted
- To pray for the living and the dead
Often, the callings are not easy. Many of us would probably think that we are not qualified to answer God’s call. But my dear friends, God does not call the qualified. He qualifies those He called. As the Third Servant said, “Morning by morning he wakens – wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.” (verse 4-5) We need to let God form us. However, God’s formation does not magically manifest in a passive heart. No, my brothers and sisters, we need to open ourselves to actively engage with God. This often calls for sacrifices. We need to make time for God, contemplate on His words daily. Most importantly and perhaps most challengingly, we need to die to our old self, accepting the trails and tribulation that come our way during that process of dying to our old self.
“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.” (First Reading, verse 6). When I start to live my calling, some will persecute me like they did to the servant in the First Reading. Some will give false testimony against me like they did to Jesus in the Gospel (verse 14:59); others will (figuratively probably) spat and hit me like they did to Jesus (verse 14:65). And there will be times I feel forsaken by God, as Jesus did hanging on the cross in agony, as He lamented, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Gospel, verse 15:34)
That is why, my dear friends, before I can answer God’s calls to minister to His people, I must first be formed. I need to acknowledge how inadequate I am to carry God’s mission and open myself to His formation. The Latin saying Nemo dat quod non habet, means we cannot give what we do not have. Before I can form others, I need to first form myself. Before I can minister to others, I need to first minister to myself. The formation and ministering I need to undergo often extends beyond Scripture study and contemplation. As is the case in Christian living, we also need to learn to carry our crosses in humility and obedience. This process often requires me to go through difficult trials which is part of growing pains. I might even have to suffer injustice in the process, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” (Mt 5:39-41) I need to ready myself.
Not all who are called will be ready. Many will give in to the temptations of the world and walk away. Judas walked away because of his greed: “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.” (Gospel, verse 14:10-11) Others will desert Jesus out of peer pressure or fear of persecution, like Peter who denied Jesus three times in the Gospel (verse 14:66-71); or Pontius Pilate who sentenced Jesus to death so as to “satisfy the crowd” (verse 15:15). Sadly but inevitably, some desert Jesus for wealth, some for glory, others for bodily pleasures. But we know these earthly pleasures are but transient. In truth, they only offer fleeting moments of satisfaction. As St Augustine said, “Our hearts remain restless till they find rest in God.” If we desert God for such fleeting pleasure, like the man who run away from Jesus naked (Gospel, verse 14:51), we too will one day find having deserted Jesus, we find ourselves naked and empty.
For the greater good of humanity, Jesus the Son of God accepted God’s will: “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, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Second Reading, verse 6-8) Jesus did not do as James and John suggested, to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume them” (Lk 9:54). But instead, as the false accusations and insults were hurled at Jesus, “he was silent and did not answer” (verse 14:61). For meekness is how we win over hardened hearts.
I wish you a contemplative and spirit-filled Holy Week, my dear brothers and sisters.