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The Sunday of the Lord's Passion of the Palms

Lenten meditations on justice and peace



Paul today quotes a hymn that recalls the divinity and the humanity of Jesus. Three different words are used to emphasize Christ's humanity and thus his solidarity with the entire human race. He speaks of Christ's humility, of his emptying of his self, a voluntary oblation of love. 

Such a contrast is this kenosis to the demands of this era for self-aggrandizement. In the modern world, Jesus would be advised to get a PR coach, a FB page, and to learn how to properly promote himself. But Jesus, who is God, chooses not to claim an earthly throne by the force of power.  There's no doubt that the crowds of Jerusalem were on his side this day. They were tired of the Romans, weary of oppression, they longed for the rebirth of their nation, they would certainly have taken up arms against the Romans if Jesus had called them to do so.  Instead of earthly honors and political powers, Christ comes with servant leadership, calling us to follow his example.

What? Servant leadership? What good is that?  Give us the head of the Roman procurator, that's what we want!  It's not a surprise that only a few days after hailing Jesus as King, the street is crying out, "Crucify him, crucify him!"  The way of the world is violence, the way of the Lord is justice and peace. It's not easy to understand or accept, then or now.

Why can't we have a nice violent revolution and get rid of the Romans?  Well, actually, the Jews did get that, twice over the next 100 years, and the end  result was the extirpation of the Jewish community in Israel, the destruction of the Temple, and the Diaspora.

One of the things we learn in catechism class is you can't seek a good end by an immoral means.  It is always tempting, but it always fails. Consider our own violent Revolution in 1776.  That ushered in 200+ years of state violence. There has not been a single year of our history that the American state has not been killing someone somewhere for something. That's not something we like to confront, but it is historical truth.

The Passion narrativesof Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which we read in all of their excrutiating reality at the liturgy of Palm Sunday, over the three year lectionary cycle, are among the most epic prose of the Christian scriptures.

We often say that Jesus "suffered and died," but what really happened was he was tortured and murdered.  
Here we see the  unjust exercise of authority, the condemnation of the innocent, the open face of evil, the betrayal of friends  and the conspiracies of ruling religious, political, and economic elites organizing mob violence against an innocent man.  We watch a cowardly politician condemn an innocent man, driven by his own lack of concern  for truth and justice and his worries about the local mob and his own reputation with Caesar. Life was cheap in the old Roman Empire.

We certainly haven't learned much in the intervening 2000 years. Life in the American Empire is as dirt cheap as it was in ancient Rome.  The corpses of any number of dead civilians scattered about the world in our "places of military interest", not to forget the soldiers, tell the truth of this tale. These human persons are seen as cheap toys by the politicians and the corporations on all sides of these wars who profit from the slaughter.  That's why we have so much slaughter, there's money to be made in death, and we truly get what we pay for.

As we read of the passion and death of Jesus of Nazareth, we are reminded that the works of justice and  peace are hard works. They are human actions that are rooted in the incarnation and voluntary self-giving of Jesus.  While Pilate models the unjust exercise of authority, Christ models the just servant leadership that is a model for  all who would do the works of justice and peace.

The pyramids of bodies erected in the sands of the Middle East by our imperial greed for oil and power call us to repent of our  own willing participation in the structures of sin that make this evil possible. Now is a time to pray and work for peace. Our prayer gives us a renewed resolve to heal the wounds of war with the power of love and Christian example, one life at a time, one moment at a time.

The Lord calls us to works of reparations for the moral cowardice of our bishops and other religious leaders who conspire with Pilate to crucify Jesus in our own time.

Today the final days of this Lenten journey begin. Events start moving in close succession. Christ calls us together in the time and place of Holy Week to celebrate these deep mysteries, to receive our God in the Holy Eucharist,  to welcome new pilgrims to join our journey. As the liturgies of Holy Week unfold, it is as though each of us in attendance is present at the original events that we recall. At the end we will find joy and peace, but the road that goes there passes  first through the valley of the shadow of death. We will fear no evil, because God is with us.

Prayer intentions today:

+ For all who walk through the rites of initiation this week, that they will be humble and open to the great mysteries  that they celebrate, we pray to the Lord.

+ For all the people of God, that we will find in the example of Christ's voluntary self-offering of his entire life, strength and inspiration for the journeys God is calling us to, we pray to the Lord.

+ For all the victims of conspiring rulers of this world, protect them in their hour of grave need.

+ For all of us, that we will turn our backs on structures of sin, and do the works of justice, peace, and mercy.

Praxis today:

+ Attend Mass and celebrate this Sunday of the Lord's Passion of the Palms

+ Bring your Rice Bowl offering to the church and present it to help feed the hungry, or if you are not Catholic, give to a relief fund that helps  the poor throughout the world.
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