Homily for Palm Sunday from Archbishop Martin at Mass in St. Marys’ Pro Cathedral, Sunday March 24th
“We will hear two Gospel readings at this Mass. We have just heard the account of Jesus’ Solemn Entry into Jerusalem. Later we will hear Saint Luke’s account of the Passion and death of Jesus. There appears to be a sharp contrast between these two Gospels; between the greeting of those who call Jesus “King” and who cry “Hosanna”, and that of others who cry: “Crucify him” as they treat him, not as a king, but as a criminal condemned to die an ignominious death on the Cross.
But that contrast is a false one. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. He shows us his identity through humility and humiliation, the same path that we his disciples are called to follow in our times. Let us set out then on the path of following Jesus in his humility through the way we live, as we begin now our celebration of Holy Week.
On the First Sunday of Lent we heard the Gospel account of the temptations of Jesus. At the end of Saint Luke’s account of the temptation the evangelist noted that: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time”.
Now that time has come. Today, in the reading of the Passion of the Lord, we have seen how Jesus is once again to be put to the test. Once again he must reject the temptations of Satan, those of power, wealth and success. As with those first temptations, Jesus remains faithful to the will of his Father, even at the price of enduring the ignominious death on a criminal’s cross. Jesus follows this path with all the anguish and fear it entails, but he does not flinch or waver. In this dramatic way he shows us how God is always faithful to his people.
His disciples react in a very different way. Just look at that most intimate gathering of the last Supper when Jesus shares with his disciples what was to happen in the days to come, How do his disciples react? They give in to temptation. One leaves the room and heads off to betray Jesus. Others even at this most solemn moment are still concerned about prestige and who should be considered the most important among them. Peter, the rock chosen on which to build the Church, promises in big words never to betray Jesus, but in that same evening Peter will betray Jesus three times. In the face of temptation the disciples flee and abandon Jesus.
At the final moment on the cross Jesus is tempted once again: “If you are the Son of God, save yourself”, they cry. But Jesus had not come to save himself. He had come to give his life out of love for us, so that we could have life.
This Gospel account teaches us about the essence of the Christian life and it tells us something about the Church today and how we are called to live as members of the Church of Christ.
Can we come back for a moment to that to that contrast that I mentioned before we began the procession? There is no contrast about how Jesus understands his kingship. The contrast is in people. How can such a change happen in one week? From a moment in which people call Jesus King and who cry “Hosanna”, to the moment in which the crowds cry: “Crucify him”.
We are talking to a great extent about two different groups of people who react to Jesus in different ways. There are the simple people on Palm Sunday, who may have really known little about Jesus, but whose faith is so strong that they begin to read, as it were between the lines, and come to recognise something of his identity. And there are others who are so set in their own ways and who feel that they have all the certainties about God and who in their arrogance reject God outright. Who are these two groups? Those who reject him are the establishment of Jerusalem, those who counted and those who thought they counted. Those who begin to recognise Jesus are to some extent outsiders, the one’s who for the establishment counted for little, those who have yet to go up to Jerusalem.
The entry into Jerusalem sets the scene for what is to happen in Holy Week and interprets not just the events but their meaning. The key is the word humble. Jesus is recognised by the humble and rejected by the arrogant and self-certain. Jesus himself humbly enters into the Holy City not in a carriage, the symbol of royal power. He does not even enter on horseback which was the method of transport of the wealthy and the distinguished. Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a borrowed donkey, the animal of the simple, common country people. The Jesus who humbly enters into Jerusalem is the one who humbles himself that we may have life.
Humility is the key that opens the door to understanding who Jesus is. Humility is the key to understanding the Christian life. Anyone who has been following the events of these days regarding the election of the new Pope will have been struck by the great stress that he places on simplicity. He wants a Church marked by simplicity and by a nearness to the poor. It is also evident that his stress on simplicity is not a public relations gesture, but comes from a deep conviction accompanied by a remarkable determination.
Each day Pope Francis has given us new and significant signs and gestures about how he understands his role as Bishop of Rome and successor of Saint Peter. He does not want us, however, just to look at these gestures on television and feel good about them and fell good that we have a new Pope like him. Even those hostile to the Church can feel that way. There is not much good in us believers having a new Pope if we do not make our own what he is saying and teaching and doing. There is not much good in having a new Pope if we do not change ourselves and reflect more effectively in our lives the goodness of God revealed in the humble self-giving love of Jesus Christ.
Humility and simplicity are not ends in themselves. Through his simplicity Pope Francis wants us to focus not on himself but on the one head of the Church: Jesus Christ. He stressed: “Christ remains the centre, not the Successor of Peter: Christ is the centre. Christ is the fundamental point of reference, the heart of the Church. Without him, Peter and the Church would not exist or have reason to exist”.
The Church is the Church of Jesus Christ and it is his self-giving alone that brings hope for renewal and gives us the strength to remain faithful to his message and his mission. Reform and renewal in the Church, sorely needed, can never be a task which we as humans can undertake on our own. It will only come when we convert, that is when we change direction in our lives, and allow Christ’s example of fidelity to be the driving force in our lives. Reform in the Church will never come until we all reform our hearts.
The Church will not be reformed as the Church of Christ by cries from those who do not believe. Renewal is a matter of faith and of understanding what it means that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is not of this world but it must be realised day by day within this world, by those who understand the meaning of Christ’s self-giving love, which aimed not to save himself but to bring life to others.
Renewal in the Church will always be a following of Jesus along the path of the Cross. When we journey along the way of the Cross we do not know what that way will entail and how long our journey will take. The challenge is not to follow the short-cuts of the disciples who found that fleeing was the quick and easy answer; the challenge is not to follow the hypocrisy of Pilate who places his own position ahead of his responsibility towards an innocent man; our challenge is not to get trapped in irrelevant questions of prestige and status as did some disciples at the Last Supper. Our challenge is to be like Jesus who, with all the anguish and fear it entails, does not flinch or waver in remaining faithful to the will of his Father, even at the price of enduring the ignominious death on a criminal’s cross.
In his humility and fidelity Jesus rejects the perennial temptations of power, wealth and success. The arrogance and self-certainty that accompany the unscrupulous use of power will only produce friendships of convenience like that between Herod and Pilate, friendships useful only to generate a pride and a greed that divide society and cut us off from others and damage the weakest among us.
True simplicity and humility must never be simply a humility of show gestures. Authentic humility alone is the key which creates hearts open to the mysterious ways in which Jesus calls us to be like him in his poverty and to love and serve him in others. ENDS