Palm Sunday: The Passio of the Christ

Because of the intensity and the length of the gospel reading on Palm Sunday—the Passion according to Luke—the rubrics call for a short (if any) homily—and accordingly, this is a short entry on the blog.

I propose that we focus on the meaning of the word Passion. Unlike the meaning of the word in normal parlance, passion here does not mean the strong feeling towards someone or something. From the Latin word passio, the Passion of Christ is a reference to his passivity, as it is about the way Jesus allowed all these things we read happen to him: the way he allowed the powerful to destroy him, the way he allowed those who loved him to abandon him.

What Jesus does is to apply during the Passion what he has been teaching all throughout his life: forgiveness, love and especially love of the enemy, non-violence, and a total submission to the plan of God. Passivity in order to absorb God’s will—a holy passivity to which we, as well, are called.

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God Will Open a Way in the Desert of My Sinfulness

The gospel for the fifth and last Sunday in Lent narrates the scene of the woman caught in adultery. The text indicates that the Pharisees were “testing” Jesus. It is a test because there is no easy way out: Jesus either sides with obeying Mosaic Law and the woman will be executed cruelly, or he will stop the execution, breaking the Law and getting himself arrested. It seems the Pharisees loved to corner Jesus in these kinds of dilemmas often—the one about the taxes to Caesar comes to mind. Interestingly, the prescribed punishment (death penalty) is worse than the accusation (adultery.) Also, we wonder where the adulterous man is, as it takes two to commit adultery. Once again, Jesus’ keen eye for human nature finds him a way to elude the dilemma.

Jesus knew about human nature. He knew that we all have sinned, we all have failed, we all have hurt people and we all have done things in the past that we now regret. Thus, the older the person was, the faster he dropped the stone and hurried out of the scene. Jesus did not deny there was a sin—he tells the woman “not to sin anymore.” He simply made people see that once we look honestly at our own lives we may realize we have no right to judge and punish others.

As we conclude our Lent, this gospel invites us to do just that: avoid judging, by examining our own sinfulness, by taking stock of our own lives and realizing that we have no right to judge others. The reading of this gospel reminded me of Pope Francis when he was asked about homosexuals in the Church. He simply replied, “Who am I to judge?” This answer would have shown anybody’s humility, but it is especially amazing when it is said by someone with the Holy Father’s power and influence over millions of individuals.

The sooner I realize my own sinfulness, the sooner I can begin to experience God’s Mercy in my life. The sooner I stop judging and condemning others, the sooner I can begin to experience the God described in the Old Testament reading, the Lord “who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters… who remembers not the events of the past, the things of long ago considers not…” The Lord who says, “I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers. I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself.”

The sooner I cease judgment of others, the sooner I let God open a way in the desert of my sinfulness.

Merciful Like the Father

For the Fourth Sunday in Lent we read the famous parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable begs the question from the hearer: of the characters in the parable, who do you identify with? Most people would probably identify with the younger brother. Like him, we may have wanted things before it was the right moment to get them; he evokes our sense of sinfulness; his being lost and broken may resonate with us.

We may identify ourselves with the oldest son, especially if we realize that, like him, we may have been jealous, or we are tired of the many years of work and responsibility; we may have experienced how others were given recognition when we thought they did not deserve it. We may have expected something in exchange for our constant faithfulness. We have compared ourselves to others, and despite the hard work we may not be experiencing the happiness that was promised to us. We have complained and held grudges like the older brother does—often even reasonably.

Perhaps we look back and we recognize stages in our lives when we connected with one brother or then the other. However…

…regardless of the brother with whom we identify, the parable is a call to identify with the father and his amazing sense of mercy. All of our Christian life is a journey to become like the father who forgives without condition; who takes the initiative in forgiving—going out to meet the son who has offended him by asking his part of the estate—tantamount of wishing his death. A father that not only forgives but also then restores the son while giving him again a sense of belonging and a recovered identity as his son—symbolized by the ring and the robe, and who also attends patiently to the unfair grudges of his oldest son.

Lent is a school of mercy, as embracing forgiveness is perhaps the biggest change (metanoia!) we need to accomplish: Do we even forgive? And when we do, do we forgive in the absolute way the father forgives his children?

Because we have screens in church, we did something “cool” at Sacred Heart. We dissected the famous painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt. Artistic people will have to forgive me, but it was an attempt to do something different with a story that we have heard so many times.