SFX Bulletin, 24th March 2013: The palms we hold today symbolise victory. Some 2,000 years ago when Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem by a wildly joyous crowd waving such palms, the people then thought that Israel’s victorious overthrow of Roman occupation was at hand. Afterall, Jesus seemed to be fulfilling the prophet Zechariah’s prophecy of a liberator-king who would enter Jerusalem, “righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech.9:9). Even though the crowd did not understand the more perfect liberation over sin and death that Jesus was going to accomplish through the cross, Jesus does not dampen their joy as the stony-hearted and stony-faced Pharisees want him to, telling him, “Master, check your disciples” (v.39) or as noted in some translations, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” (NIV). Instead, Jesus says to them, “I tell you, if these keep silence the stones will cry out” (v.40). This was Jesus’ way of telling them that even the whole of creation, right down to the stones, was excited over the recreation that would come from his death and resurrection. The crowd’s wild and joyful cry of Psalm 118, “Blessings on the King who comes, in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens!” was the right and proper response to this recreation that would come at Easter.
As we look around at our fellow brothers and sisters today and see the different emotions on their faces – we see a crowd resembling the one that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. Some are bursting with joy, some are watchful and unsure and some are like the Pharisees, cynically eyeing the joyous ones. 2,000 years on from that first Holy Week, with the church now present in every single nation in the world, there are grounds for rejoicing even louder than that Jerusalem crowd.
Jesus did not “check”, “rebuke” or “shush” the crowd’s rejoicing even though they did not correctly understand the nature of the Kingdom he would bring to them. Jesus would “reign from the wood of the cross”. His death and resurrection and the pouring out of God’s Spirit on anyone truly seeking God will be his “great victory” over Satan, ‘the ruler of this world’ (CCC550). We have all been chosen and Spirit-filled by Jesus to help him spread this “victory” by our words and through our lives – the Gospel message that God wants to fill everyone with His Spirit to help them along the path to holiness. Everyone will progress in faith differently, “some are in Christ as babes, others as adolescents and...others as adults in full command of their powers” (CCC24). However we progress, the humility of Christ, who “did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself” (Phil.2:6-7) to die and redeem us for heaven, must be the desire of our hearts. The Pharisees’ glum response to the joy of the crowd and to Jesus’ popularity reminds us that one can become so proud from being graced with spiritual knowledge. Rather than being “living stones” who “cry out” to enlighten others about God’s great salvific act of love through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Pharisees were more like a “millstone” in the faith of the community – dragging others away from Jesus’ light and into their own blindness and darkness (cf. Lk.17:2).
In his first homily, Pope Francis reminded us that we are all stones but not of the cold and silent kind. Rather, we are “living stones” with a mission to build up the church through confessing Jesus and his redemptive sacrifice. “If we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO (non-governmental organisation) but not the Church, the Bride of Christ” (Pope Francis, 14 March 2013). St. Peter, the rock on which Jesus chose to build his church, confessed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God”. This is also what we confess and, like Peter, we need the grace of God’s Spirit, which we now possess through baptism, to better understand the richness and fullness of this confession. We must not be unresponsive and stone-cold but co-operate with the promptings of God’s Spirit, “...this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, “an upright heart”, as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God” (CCC30).
In this Holy Week, let us ask for the grace to be more perfect “living stones” and with gentleness and humility, build each other up to be worthy temples of God’s Spirit fit for the coming Easter joy.
SFX Bulletin, 24th March 2013