April 05, 2020
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalms 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14–27:66 or 27:11-54
Where is My Donkey? Where are My People?
In many ways, it is hard for us to come to grips with staying home this Sunday, probably THE one Sunday when we start to make a special effort to go to Church and give thinks and praise to Christ our Saviour – Easter time starting with Palm (or Passion) Sunday. To wave palms on Palm Sunday with smiles and joy to celebrate Jesus’ victorious ride into Jerusalem – victory over sin; victory over evil; victory that saved us! It’s in our DNA to get excited about it! So, it is with heavy hearts that we are confined by a micro-organism to become temporary “home hermits”, being called to reflect on Easter 2020 from afar and on how good we have had it.
We start this most profound week of reflection, prayer, and sacrifice alone at home. No liturgy. Feeling abandoned – no family gatherings, public cheering, or even going to Church. It is certainly spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically challenging. It tears at our hearts. We suffer. And it’s real. Tuning in to on-line Mass can help but it’s just not the same.
But if we think like that for too long, we turn in on ourselves and lose sight of the real message of Easter! Palm Sunday is a time of exceptional hope and love. We stand at the threshold of Holy Week, of Jesus’ last supper, His agony in Gethsemane, His trial and passion, and death on Good Friday, followed by His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Just as we are being challenged today, albeit in new ways for us, Jesus was challenged to His very core. Despite riding into Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey with people praising Him and waving palms along the way, He then suffered and died mercilessly, virtually alone. Throughout it all He felt abandoned – but never lost sight of His Father’s love or the victory to be achieved for us. The victory over original sin. He rode on a donkey, a lowly beast of burden – not a strong, flashy warhorse or chariot, but a humble donkey. Greeted and cheered by His people along the way – waving the sign of victory, palms.
In some ways, our current crisis is a blessing. It is forcing us as individuals to re-prioritise our lives; to realise just how dependent on God’s love we are; just how vulnerable we are to that silken thread of life that can be so easily broken. But as a community we are called to be lovers – they will know we are Christians by the way we love, treat, and respect each other!
And so the questions Jesus might ask today could be, “Where is My Donkey? Where are My People?”
We as members of a loving Christian community are Christ’s donkey in the world today. The humble, obedient donkey can be seen as a symbol of us as individual disciples of Christ and the broader Church. We carry Him in society through our love and understanding for each other, especially to the most vulnerable; through the innovative ways we remain community by our prayer and distant contact (email, telephone, visits where allowed, etc). We remain connected at least spiritually by joining in prayer with each other – where possible at the same time. And we know it will end – it might even have beneficial legacy changes to our lifestyle and prayer life – but the current pain will end.
So in our time of temporary challenge, we should spare a thought and pray especially for those forgotten ones amongst us. Those isolated by homelessness, illness, old age, loneliness, poverty – who live this challenge each and every day of their lives. Feeling abandoned and unloved. They who can’t get to Mass but may search out the internet to do so. They too are Christ’s people; and we are His donkey in bringing Him to them and to our families and friends – with humility and hope, just a Jesus showed us 2000 years ago.
God is Faithful: You can trust Him
Imagine if you can, Jesus on the back of that donkey, a docile, obedient, humble pack animal. Loaded on that donkey’s back is not just the physical weight of Jesus Himself, but the weight of all sins of all ages. To those present who believed Jesus to be their Messiah, it is a victorious parade of God’s faithfulness in love for us despite our lack of trust in God. A humble, docile, obedient animal carries Jesus, the humble, docile, obedient servant of God, triumphantly into Jerusalem.
It can be seen as a direct contrast to the triumphal processions of victorious Roman generals who would usually ride a four-horse-drawn chariot triumphantly into Rome displaying their captives and trophies of war for all to see. It was a tumultuous event and aggressive with captives in chains being mocked and mistreated along the way. The procession was slow, cruel, and galling to the locals. It usually ended at the temple Capitoline where oxen were offered as sacrifice to their pagan gods. It was an extravagant affair which could last several days.
In direct contrast, Jesus’ procession was humble but victorious; gentle but assertive; peaceful but provocative. No parading of captives and trophies but rather being led by crowds placing their cloaks and palm leaves in His path, cheering Him on as their King, their Saviour! Emphatically claiming His victory over sin, sealed with His death and resurrection one week later (a victory that no Roman General could ever claim!) He won the hearts of the people. The Romans and the High Priests and Pharisees were sent into a frenzy. Thus was triggered Christ’s passion with His death to follow very soon thereafter.
Jesus was anything but naïve. He knew what lay ahead and pleaded that God might free Him from it. He trusted God. So today’s celebration is a paradox – joy versus sorrow: trust (the joy of not losing sight of Jesus’ salvific love) versus doubt (the sorrow in our loss of trust as we focus on temporal pain here and now). How do we celebrate both joy and sorrow at the same time? How do we stay faithful to a God if we don’t or can’t trust Him?
The answer of course stares us right in the face – how did Jesus do it? He was human like us – He was tempted and tested on a grand scale. As suggested earlier, He was tested and shaken to the core. Consider this:
- Judas, one of His Apostles, betrayed Him at the Last Supper. Jesus was saddened;
- He pleaded with God the Father for it to pass Him and sweated blood in fear – but stayed true to the Father – not Jesus’ will be done, but the Father’s. Jesus trusted God;
- The Apostles fell asleep and abandoned Him. Peter denied even knowing Him. Jesus was saddened;
- He was subjected to false accusations of treason and blasphemy – by His own. Jesus was saddened;
- He was humiliated beyond description and tortured – with a crown of thorns and cruel scourging all the way to Calvary. Jesus was saddened;
- He died agonisingly on a cross – naked, bloodied, mocked, and alone, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus trusted God.
Above all else, and as demonstrated throughout the Scriptures, Jesus knew Yahweh is faithful to God’s covenant of love with Jesus and all of creation, especially with us, the great sinners! He knew He could trust God if He was obedient to God’s will and that God would honour Him. And so He was faithful and obedient to God’s will, even unto death.
Therein lies the paradox of celebrating joy and sorrow – the transcendent joy of being faithful to God in trying times versus the sorrow of the pain and suffering in the here and now.
Be Humble, Gentle & Peaceful
Jesus, over the coming Holy Week, demonstrates humility, gentleness, and peace in obedience to God’s will, in the most extreme circumstances of His personal suffering and death. As we confront and accept our challenges with the constraints imposed by a micro-organism and all the other challenges in our lives, we could do likewise.
- Humility: Pray frequently and more deeply – acknowledging our total dependency on God for all things; thankful for God’s gift of our salvation. Choose a passage of the Passion scripture and contemplate it.
- Gentleness: Accept the wisdom of the constraints being imposed and the difficulty of the situation and resist complaining about the pain that follows. Smile and say gidday to those you happen to see or meet;
- Peace: Help someone. Contact them; seek someone out in your immediate neighbourhood and talk with them, especially if they are alone. Greet them with “Peace, my friend” or something similar. Try to stay actively connected spiritually with each other. Get in touch with your Parish Community Facebook page (if they have one) and stay connected to your community.
Easter is a time for us to re-prioritise our lives – to get our spiritual, emotional, and psychological lives into better balance. Jesus shows us how to do just that.
We are His donkey. We are His people. He died and rose for us. Let us also die to His love by the way we show humility, gentleness, and peace to all in these awful times and rise to new life in the Holy Spirit, here and now.
Trust Jesus and be His donkey. Have a blessed Holy Week.