Friday, March 27, 2015

PALM SUNDAY:  Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 11:1-10; Mk 14: 1--15:47 or Mk 15: 1-39

Today we celebrate both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. The liturgy combines contrasting moments of glory and suffering – the royal welcome given to Jesus by his followers and the unjust drama of his trial culminating in his crucifixion.
The royal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem echoes many details from the life of the ancient kings of Israel and contemporary history.
Why did Jesus walk 90 miles from the Galilee to Bethany and then secure a donkey for the final two miles to Jerusalem? In those days, Kings used to travel in such processions on horseback during wartime, but preferred to ride a donkey in times of peace. I Kings 1: 38-41 describes how Prince Solomon used his father David’s royal donkey for the ceremonial procession on the day of his coronation.  The crowd around Jesus was aware of King Solomon's royal procession on David's royal mule as he was taken to be anointed as king. That is why they shouted to Jesus, Hosannah to the son of David. Riding the royal mule, and then later being seated on David's royal throne, were both acts that confirmed that David's kingship was legitimately being transferred to Solomon.
The Jews were eagerly waiting for the fulfillment of the Prophecy made by Zechariah, about 500 years ago. "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, ….. He shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth" (Zech. 9:9-10).
Jesus entered the Holy City as a king of peace, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. The Gospel specifically mentions that the colt Jesus selected for the procession was one that had not been ridden before, reminding us of a stipulation given in I Samuel 6:7 concerning the animal that was to carry the Ark of the Covenant, which was the very presence of Yahweh in Israel.  
Jesus also gave kingly orders to his disciples, "Go off to the nearby village, you will find a tethered colt, untie it and bring it here." These words reflected the power of authority. So the disciples did not dare to question him.
The palm branches and the shouts harked back a century-and-a-half to the triumph of the Maccabees and the overthrow of the brutal Antiochus Epiphanes, in 167 B.C. Antiochus had forbidden the practice of Judaism on pain of death, he set up, right smack in the middle of the Jewish temple, an altar to Zeus and sacrificed a pig on it. Hard to imagine a greater slap in the religious face to good Jews. Stinging from this outrage, an old man of priestly stock named Mattathias rounded up his five sons, all the weapons he could find, and a guerrilla war was launched. After 20 years, finally they won the Judean independence. Of course, there was great celebration. "The Jews entered Jerusalem with praise and palm branches, and cleansed and rededicated the temple. This will point to why Jesus cleansed the temple after the Palm procession according to Luke’s account.
Another implication of the procession is that nearly 25,000 lambs were sacrificed during the feast of the "Pass Over," but the lamb which was sacrificed by the High Priest was taken to the Temple in a procession four days before the main feast day.  On Palm Sunday, Jesus, the true Paschal Lamb, was also taken to the Temple in a large procession.

Jesus knew to get from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday he had to walk through a graveyard in the dark. The only road from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday runs right through the middle of Good Friday.
The real meaning of Palm Sunday for us today can be found in the question, "What kind of Jesus are we looking for?" Do we want a Miracle Jesus or Ritual Jesus? Do we want a Military Jesus or a Messiah Jesus? If you are looking for a military Jesus we will be disappointed like the Jews.

Philip Yancey, an editor at Christianity Today magazine, grew up in a fundamentalist church which didn't observe the major events of Holy Week. He never attended a Good Friday service and shied away from crucifixes because they were "too Catholic." He writes, "The church I grew up in, skipped past the events of Holy Week in a rush to hear the cymbal sounds of Easter."
The Bible "slows down rather than speeds up when it gets to Holy Week." One early Christian commentator went so far as to say that the gospels are actually the record of Jesus' final week . . . with extended introductions. One third of the gospels is about just one week’s of Jesus’ life and only two thirds cover his rest of 33 years of life. Let’s slow down between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday and ponder and meditate the life of Jesus on his last week of life on earth and receive him as the messiah of my life.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

LENT V (MARCH 22): JER 31:31-34; HEB 5:7-9; JOHN 12:20-33
One day, a lady called in a repairman to fix her electric clock. The repairman fiddled with it for a while and then said, "There's nothing wrong with the clock; you didn't have it plugged in." The lady replied, "I don't want to waste electricity, so I only plug it in when I want to know what time it is."

That's an apt description of many people today. They save their religion for a rainy day. They go about unplugged and wonder why their lives are so devoid of power. Christian faith is not something to be plugged in when it is convenient or when it is necessary. The Christian life is lived daily. There is a cost involved; daily self sacrifice. 
Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, from one seed comes hundreds of  seeds. It means that unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is, destroys that life. But if we let it go, reckless in love, we’ll have it forever, real and eternal."
During his public ministry, Jesus had made it clear that one condition for being his follower was bearing the cross. "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
Billy Graham says: "When Jesus said, ‘if you are going to follow me, you have to take up a cross,’ it was the same as saying, ‘Come and bring your electric chair with you. Take up the gas chamber and follow me.’ He did not have a beautiful gold cross in mind - the cross on a church steeple or on the front of your Bible. Jesus had in mind a place of execution."
To be a Christian is to be where Christ is: "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be." And where is Christ? He is always pouring out his life for others on the cross, giving himself for the good of others through self-forgetful love.
This is the lesson of the Gospels, and of the Eucharist - the extension throughout history of Christ's self-sacrifice on Calvary. It is by the self-sacrificial lives of holy men and women that life and salvation come to mankind.  The world owes everything to people who recklessly spent their lives for others.  If we seek to avoid all pain, if we take things easily, if we avoid all stress, if we avoid all risks, if we become over conscious of our health, if we are preoccupied with our well being, we may exist longer – but we will never live.
St Paul learned this lesson well; he was always talking about the cross. He wrote to the Corinthians: "...the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:2).
As followers of Christ, we should expect crosses, difficulties, and even, at times, persecution. Our brethren who give up their lives rather than renounce their faith in Iraq, Syria and other Islamic States know that without cross there is no Christianity. Many Modern day liberal protestants preach cross-less Christianity. Listen to Joel Osteen and you will know how Christ’s message has been presented twisted. There is no cross in his $95 mil. Renovated church, if you can call it a church. His message is God is going to bless you with riches here. Well, that is the early O.T. message. The concept of eternal life was not presented there, but only wealthy,long earthly life.  So he can justify living in a 10.5 Mil mansion. He doesn’t have a message for the next life. Because heaven is totally out here. You heard recently about Pastor Creflo Dollar who bought a $65 Mil private jet to use for his preaching ministry. Jesus told him to buy it and his followers are to pay for it. Well, looks like Jesus is changing his message to some people.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran Pastor who was executed by hanging by Hitler for resisting his movement wrote in his book that  "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."
Pope Francis has clear messages about what Christianity is like. And he displays it in his personal life. To be a true Christian involves not just wearing a crucifix or hanging one on the wall, but bearing the sign of the cross in the very marrow of our lives.
So the message for us today is that -New life and eternal life are possible only by the death of the self through suffering and service. Salt delivers its taste by dissolving in water; a candle gives light by burning its wick and melting its wax. The oyster produces a priceless pearl by a long and painful process. Loving parents sacrifice themselves so that their children can enjoy a better life than they themselves have had.  Only a life spent for others will be glorified here in this world and in Heaven.

It is better to burn out than rust out.  This is one of the repeated pieces of advice Jesus gave us (Mark 8:35; Matthew 16:25; 10:39; Luke 9:24; 17:33). Bernard Shaw in his play, Joan of Arc, shows the saint as praying: “Lord I shall last a year; use me as you can.” Let us learn to live this Lenten period “burning out,” spending our time and talents for others around us by humble, selfless and self-giving service.