The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion||March 20, 2005|
As we listen to the account in Matthew's Gospel -- and we find it also, of course, in the other three Gospels -- of the passion and death of Jesus it's almost inevitable that we would begin to wonder: Where might I be in that whole narrative? Of all the different people talked about in this narrative, which one would I be? Probably the only ones who come through with any kind of integrity, the people you would really admire, are the women. If you make the way of the cross, you come to the fourth station and there's Mary who never gave up, waited to see Jesus and then walked with him. It was just like he had told her, that she would be with him until he died. Veronica wiped his face. The women stood by praying for him as he walked by. The only ones left at the cross when he finally died were Mary his mother, Mary's cousin, Mary the wife of Cleophas and Mary Magdalene. John was the one apostle there but that's all. All the others have fled.
Some people, of course, had very terrible participation in the whole event. The religious leaders who turned Jesus over to Pilot. And Pilot himself tried to wash his hands of the whole thing, pretend he wasn't involved. The soldiers who did the gruesome task of nailing him, crucifying him and then divided up his garments, throwing dice to see who got what. There's all these different people in there. Peter, think of him. So bold. "Everybody else might deny you, but I'll never deny you." Then of course a little girl, a teenager, said, "You're one of them." Peter fell apart and said, "No, I don't even know him." He denied Jesus, and like all the other disciples ran away.
So where would I be? I think if we were honest about it -- and this may be hard to hear and to accept -- we would be like Judas. Judas Iscariot, the one who actually betrayed him. In his Gospel, John described Judas as a petty thief. He also kept track of the money and wanted more money all the time, so he sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. I don't think we would do that.
But what really was going on with Judas? The truth about Judas was that he could not accept who Jesus was and what Jesus taught. Judas was probably a very idealistic young man when Jesus called him to be a disciple. Judas was angry, in a just way, about the occupation of the Promised Land by the Romans. The occupying army was doing all kinds of cruel things to the people, keeping them poor and oppressed, and Judas was among a group of revolutionaries who wanted to get rid of the Roman occupiers. When he first heard Jesus preach, I suppose, in that synagogue at Nazareth -- "The spirit of God is upon me. God sends me to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to give the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free!" -- it sounded just like what Judas was looking for, someone who would really struggle for the poor and the oppressed and overthrow the Roman occupiers.
Judas became a fervent follower of Jesus. He must have thought, "Here's the time it's going to happen." So you have to wonder what went through the mind of Judas when he began to hear Jesus preaching things like "blessed are the poor," "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice," "blessed are the peacemakers" or when Jesus said "You heard that it was said of old love your neighbor, hate your enemy. I say to you love your enemy. Do good to the one who hurts you. If somebody wants you to go one mile go two. If somebody strikes you on one cheek turn the other. If somebody takes your cloak give them your coat also." Judas began to hear all of that. I suppose he began to wonder, "What's going on? Is he really going to overthrow the Romans or not?"
Well, Jesus was determined to bring about a revolution, there's no doubt about it. He meant it when he said that he came to proclaim good news to the poor. He meant all those things that he said. But because of his own prayer and deep communion with God, Jesus was also very much aware of those things that the prophets had said about the one who was to restore the kingdom to Israel, the one who was to bring about this revolution. For example, in today's first lesson: "God has opened my ear. I have not rebelled nor have I withdrawn. I offered my back to those who strike me, my cheek to those who pulled my beard. Neither did I shield my face from blows, spittle and disgraced." Jesus understood that he had to accept suffering rather than inflict suffering.
Jesus was set to change everything, yes. But if you listen deeply to God's word, Matthew's account of Jesus' riding into Jerusalem on that donkey takes you back into the book of the prophet Zachariah. This was a time for a new king to come to Israel, but it wasn't going to be a typical kind of king. It was going to be a king who would not build up an army, would not ride into Jerusalem on a horse, armed and leading troops. This king would come into Jerusalem in a very simple way -- a poor person riding on the back of the donkey. A symbol of peace. Jesus understood that and that's how he began to preach and to act.
Even in his crucifixion and death, of course, he reached out in forgiveness and love. He never retaliated. The very ones who nailed him to the cross, he prayed for them. He was concerned for the two revolutionaries nailed to crosses along side of him. He prayed for them. He interacted with them. Jesus was always reaching out at every moment. It was a whole different way. Yes, he came to bring good news to the poor, to set the downtrodden free, but not through violence! Not through war.
Here it is 2,000 years later. Have we really heard the message of Jesus? This weekend is the second anniversary of when we decided again that we had to go to war to try to bring peace. It was only a continuation of what we did back in 1991 and twelve and a half years of sanctions. We try to bring peace and justice through violence and killing. That is not the way of Jesus! That is so clear if you listen to what goes on in this account of the passion, suffering and death of Jesus.
The truth is captured most powerfully, I think, in the peace day statement that Pope John Paul II developed and promulgated for Jan. 1 of this current year, a year when there is war and violence and killing going on in so many places in the world. The war of terrorism. John Paul said, "To obtain the good of peace there must be a clear and conscious acknowledgment that violence is an unacceptable evil and that it never solves problems." That's what Judas couldn't understand or accept, and I think if you look at our country, our church within this country, we have to ask: Have we really accepted that truth, that to obtain peace there must be a clear and conscious acknowledgment that violence is an unacceptable evil and never solves problems?
John Paul went on to say, "Violence is a lie. It goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Do not believe in violence. Do not support violence. It is not the Christian way. It is not the way of the Catholic church. Believe in peace and forgiveness and love for they are of Christ." That is what Judas could not accept, and I'm afraid that many of us don't deeply accept it either.
We need conversion if we are going to enter into this Holy Week, if we are going to enter into the suffering, the death, the crucifixion, but then the rise into new life of Jesus. We have to try to be faithful to who he is and what he's teaching. How do we do that? Turn to the first lesson today; the prophet describing this servant who is a faithful disciple said, "God has taught me, so I speak as his disciple and I know how to sustain the weary. Morning after morning God wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple." That is the very least we need to do: listen, listen deeply to everything Jesus says, everything he says through his actions.
Listen. Listen deeply. Then gradually -- I don't think it will happen overnight -- we will be converted. Then it will be true of us what St. Paul said in the second reading: "Have this mind in you which was in Christ, Jesus, who though he was God did not think his divinity something to be clung to but emptied himself, emptied himself, made himself vulnerable, weak, became fully human like us, gave himself over to death, even the death of the cross and that God could fill him with the wonder and glory and the power of God which is the power of love."
God can do that to us, change us, enable us to give up violence, hatred and vengeance and retaliation and be filled with love as was Jesus. He wants us to listen deeply each day, empty ourselves, and let ourselves be filled with God. We will be able to follow the way of Jesus and then truly bring the peace and the love of Jesus into our world.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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